Boost profits by frost seeding legumes now

  • Published: Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Add legumes to fescue and other cool-season pastures at the right time to add pounds and profits to cattle.

The right time is when pastures are frozen and snow-covered, says University of Missouri Extension state forage specialist Craig Roberts.

Snow makes the seeds easier to see. Seeding on frozen ground also lessens the chance of rutting or compacting soils.

Broadcast annual lespedeza, red clover or white clover in mid-February in most of Missouri, says Roberts. Seed in late January in southern counties and late February in northern counties.

Frost seeding, a method of broadcasting seeds, allows seeds to work into the soil as the ground freezes and thaws. Too much thatch or plant residue can prevent good seed-to-soil contact, which reduces stands. Cattle can help by “hoofing” seeds into the soil as they trample pastures.

Red clover, white clover and annual lespedeza are the top three legumes to frost seed in Missouri, says Roberts.

In endophyte-infected tall fescue pastures, clover reduces animal exposure to toxins associated with fescue toxicosis, says Tim Evans, MU Extension specialist in veterinary toxicology.

Fescue toxicosis impairs weight gain, milk production and reproductive performance. It also hinders beef cattle’s ability to regulate body heat and causes leg and foot problems, including fescue foot.

Other legume options include alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, hairy vetch and sunn hemp. Seed these later in the year; if seeded too early, seeds may germinate and emerge before an ice storm, Roberts says. Roberts does not recommend frost seeding birdsfoot trefoil because of its poor vigor in Missouri soils.

The right amount and type of seed and good pasture management determine the success of adding legumes to pastures, he says. Look for “certified seed” for best results and to avoid poor-quality stands. For seeding rates, download the free MU Extension publication “Seeding Rates, Dates and Depths for Common Missouri Forages” at extension.missouri.edu/p/G4652.

Roberts offers more tips in the MU Extension video “Frost Seeding Legumes in Tall Pastures” at youtu.be/zkYQo251xDQ.

In March, the Alliance for Grassland Renewal will offer training in Missouri, Virginia and Alabama. The Missouri training is March 23 at MU’s Southwest Research Center in Mount Vernon. Register at bit.ly/3XkSP77.

Roberts says the workshops are a great way to learn to renovate and manage Kentucky 31 fescue pastures. For more information, visit www.grasslandrenewal.org.

MU Extension agronomists and livestock specialists also can offer advice.

Media Contact

Craig Roberts
573/882-0481

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