The Case for High Legume Pastures

  From the May 14, 2018 Issue of Agri-News
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 Should livestock producers add forage legumes to their pastures? Livestock, forage, and beef specialists at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) make the case for a high legume pasture mix.

“For the typical Alberta livestock producer, perennial forages are a key part of their summer/fall feed supply,” says Karin Lindquist, forage/beef specialist with AF. “So, choosing forage varieties that can handle the variable weather conditions is critical to a good pasture management strategy.”

“Everywhere you look in nature, many different types of plants and animals cohabitate in the same area,” adds Andrea Hanson, beef extension specialist with AF. ”In a pasture situation, why would we not try to achieve the same? Having a biodiverse plant community allows for different plant species to thrive in different conditions within the same area so that, throughout the growing season, something is always there for livestock to graze.”

Adding legumes to the pasture stand diversifies the plant matter above ground and to the roots. Legumes fix nitrogen in the soil which aids in the fertility of the pasture and reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer. Sainfoin, like alfalfa, also has a deep tap root so that it can continue to grow when rain stops.

Applied Research and Extension Associations in Alberta, along with a producer/cooperator for each area have been gaining experiences with high-legume pastures over the last two years. Specifically, they have been including AC Mountainview sainfoin in a high-legume pasture mix.

Sainfoin, or Onobrychis viciifolia, is a forage legume that contains tannins. These tannins reduce the rate of protein breakdown in the rumen which, in turn, reduces the risk of bloat in a high legume pasture. Grazing research at Lethbridge and Swift Current has shown a 95 to 98 per cent bloat reduction when 25 per cent of sainfoin is present in an alfalfa/sainfoin stand.

Developed by Dr. Surya Acharya at the Ag-Canada Lethbridge Research Centre, AC Mountainview sainfoin is a new variety that was bred to have a similar growth pattern to and yield as alfalfa. This variety is also more adept at remaining competitive with alfalfa in a mixed stand.

“Experiences with the high legume pastures containing sainfoin varied across Alberta when it came to establishment,” explains Grant Lastiwka, livestock and forage business specialist with AF. “The most important lesson with seeding is to ensure a firm seedbed before planting so that the seeds are placed shallow enough to get a good start while maintaining that important soil-to-seed contact. The first year of establishment requires observation of the stand to ensure the weeds are not outcompeting the forage seedlings for sunlight and moisture.

“Once the forage stand is established, the plants need to set seed at least every two to three years,” adds Lastiwka. “Sainfoin has an indeterminate growing pattern, so you may find it flowering while lower down on the plant, there is already developed seed. Those seeds then fall off and are important to keep revitalizing the forage stand for years to come.”

For more information, watch Why High Legume Pastures and Establishing a High Legume Pasture, or call the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Andrea Hanson
Grant Lastiwka
Karin Lindquist

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Andrea Hanson.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on May 7, 2018.