Adding Legumes to Grazing Land is a No-Brainer

Husker Home Place

Seeding red clover or alfalfa to pastures boosts grazing diversity, rate of gain and grassland fertility.

Published on: March 19, 2012

With the warm weather we’ve experienced in recent days, it seems only natural to talk about grazing lands. But I have to remind myself that it is still March. I guess, as the eerie, warm weather persists, we might as well enjoy it and make plans for improving our pastures going into the next grazing season.

Around our place, one of the easiest, simplest and cheapest things we’ve done to improve our pastures has been adding red clover or alfalfa to the grazing mixture, even with established pastures. We’ve frost seeded the legumes. We’ve broadcast seeded. We’ve even added a little untreated red clover seed in the loose mineral feeder and let nature take its course.

GREAT GRAZING: Adding legumes to grazing lands boosts rate of gain and grassland fertility.
GREAT GRAZING: Adding legumes to grazing lands boosts rate of gain and grassland fertility.

But the overall benefits have been the same. Patches of legumes have taken hold, even in our thickest brome pastures. Sometimes they aren’t that evident in the middle of spring when brome is growing fast, but later on as the brome slows down, the legumes are quite visible to cattle and farmers and ranchers.

University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist, Bruce Anderson, has advocated legumes in pastures for years. According to Anderson, bromegrass/legume pastures produced almost four-tenths of a pound higher average daily gain on yearlings than straight brome fertilized with 50 lbs. of nitrogen. That comes from five years of research in eastern Nebraska pastures.

With the high cost of feed and the high value of cattle this year, every little inexpensive advantage we can take should be exploited if possible. Anderson says that legumes in the pastures can reduce fertilizer expenses and add value to yearlings because of a better rate of gain, amounting to nearly $50 more profit per acre.

Red clover is probably the easiest to establish, although it may need to be re-seeded every two or three years. There is no doubt that getting legumes into your grazing land pays big time on your bottom line. You can always learn more by emailing Anderson at

Too bad adding legumes wouldn’t somehow choke out those unsightly plumeless and musk thistles or red cedar trees. We’ll save solving those problems for another day.