“It’s no-till help,” says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist. Thin stands of grass caused by summer heat, drought, overgrazing, or other factors can be rebuilt. Broadcast seeds are even helped by melting snow.
End of winter seeding of legumes helps improve pasture by adding a high-protein forage to fill in thin spots. That’s often better than overseeding more grass, Robertssays.
“Don’t wait for spring to plant,” Roberts says. “Get seed on early to gain growing time when spring returns.” Tiny, hard coated legume seeds remain viable in cold; they don’t sprout until warm weather arrives.
Legumes reinforce grass pastures by adding needed nutrients for livestock. Legume dilution helps especially in fescue. Adding new forage dilutes toxicosis from Kentucky-31 tall fescue.
Legumes in a beef calf diet can add an extra quarter pound of weight gain per day. In addition, legumes promote cow reproduction and lactation. Another benefit is that legumes fix nitrogen from the air to add to the soil.
Many legumes perform well in pastures, including white and red clover and lespedeza. All three are suitable for the MidSouth climate.
Overseeding works well to correct thinning and damaged pasture, and also provides general help for grass stands. At planting, make sure seeds reach the soil surface. Too much thatch blocks soil contact. Roberts recommends seeding rates of 1/4 pound per acre for Ladino clover, 8 pounds for red clover and 10 pounds for annual lespedeza.
Adding legumes dilutes consumption of toxic fescue but doesn’t solve the problem altogether. Preventing fescue toxicosis means replacing toxic plants with a novel endophyte variety. Modern varieties contain a natural fungus that protects the grass while producing few or no toxic alkaloids which may sicken or kill cattle.
Replacement requires completely eliminating old stands of K-31 before reseeding, but novel endophyte varieties remove the risk and worry associated with traditional fescue pasture.