By Kirk Sours, Tailgate Ranch
I have a lot of fescue here, and the legumes that mix best are red clover and Marion lespedeza. I get a little volunteer white clover sometimes, and I like it, too.
My favorite legume is the lespedeza because it’s a little more competitive at growing within the grass. I think it grazes better, too, and doesn’t cause bloat. When clover slows down in July and August, lespedeza comes on strong with just a little rain. It puts a bloom on the calves right before weaning.
I sow the clover and lespedeza with a broadcast seeder. My best time is in February or March, when I still have a little snow cover. I seed 10 to 12 pounds per acre.
In some pastures, I have a lot of manure deposits from winter feeding. I like to drag-harrow it to spread out those clumps. So I’ve come up with a system that combines the early seeding and the harrowing. My three-point seeder mounts on the back of a tractor and holds about 5 bushels of seed. When I broadcast the clover seed, I drag the harrow behind in the same pass. It stirs the soil and helps germinate the legume seed.
The harrow is 24 feet wide, and the seeder only throws seed in about a 12-foot width. I’ll see a little streaking in the legume stand, but over a year or two, the legume spreads out into the gaps.
I don’t seed legumes on every pasture every year. Rather, I select pastures that need it. In a dry year, I may get some weeds that come through and require a herbicide treatment. That’s when I reseed the legume.
My goal is to maintain about 40% legume plants and 60% grass. At that ratio, I’ve seen differences of 35 pounds or more in calf weaning weights compared with fescue-only pastures.
By Jim Munsch, Deer Run Farm
Coon Valley, Wisconsin
I raise and finish grass-fed-only beef. It’s birth to market. I sell direct to consumers or sometimes to a Wisconsin grass-fed beef co-op.
For a few years, I went to a lot of meetings on managed intensive grazing. Since then, I’ve doubled the carrying capacity of my pastures. I’m very intense in my grazing practices; the cowherd and finishing cattle are moved to new paddocks about every day. I put 30 cows on a paddock of a little over 1 acre.
One of my major grasses is meadow fescue. It’s extremely palatable and is naturally not infected with the fescue endophyte.
Some of the clover in my pastures will go to seed and reseed itself. To help those stands along, every pasture is frost-seeded to clover every three years on a rotating basis. I do it in February or March by walking the pastures with a hand spreader, putting down about 5 pounds per acre of red clover. It’s a rite of spring for me, and I need the exercise.
To get good seed-to-soil contact, I put cows out on those seeded acres early, as soon as there is something for them to eat. Other people won’t turn cows out until May, but I may do it in early April. Their hoof action works the clover seed into the soil and boosts germination. If I can’t get the cows out early, I drag the pastures with the four-wheeler.
My goal is 50% total legumes in pastures. I get a little naturally occurring alfalfa that comes from the purchased hay I feed, but most of the legume is clover. This past year, the frost-seeding worked very well. I’ve been slightly droughty, and on my third rotation through the pastures, over 50% of the forage was clover from the spring seeding.
With the level of legumes I achieve, I don’t fertilize the pastures. If I’m smart about where I put drinking water and shade for the cattle and make them move around, they’ll spread their manure across the fields. If I achieve 50% legume stands, it’s worth about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.