Add legumes to grazing pastures to improve cattle performance and forage production, says University of Missouri Extension Regional Livestock Field Specialist Patrick Davis. 

Frost-seed clovers and lespedeza now. They grow well with cool season grasses in Missouri and improve spring and summer pastures.

“Proper establishment is important to incorporation and persistence of these legumes,” says Davis.  He urges producers to work with their local MU Extension agronomist when seeding legumes.  MU Extension guide sheet G4652 also offers guidelines.

Clovers and lespedeza can be seeded by drill or broadcast, says Davis.  He prefers drilling because it improves seed-to-soil contact for better establishment.

“If you broadcast seed, use cattle hoof action as well as the freezing and thawing process to work the seed into the soil,” says Davis.

“Legumes improve year-round cattle grazing opportunities when added to cool season grass pastures,” says Davis.  Clovers enhance grazing in the spring while lespedeza improves grazing during late spring and summer.

Proper grazing management of legumes improves persistence and cattle performance, says Davis. He recommends rotational grazing to prevent overgrazing.

The proper grazing height and rest period help to maintain white clover in cool season pastures, says Davis. Graze pastures to 4-inch stubble height and then rest pastures three to four weeks to maintain mixtures of white clover, fescue, and orchardgrass.

“The best time to graze red clover is when about half the plants are blooming,” says Davis.  “At this point, the forage will yield a feeding value similar to alfalfa.”

Cattle bloat is a concern when grazing high-protein, highly digestible legumes.  Incorporate white clover in a mixed grass stand or slowly adapt cattle to very thick stands of clover to reduce bloat.  Another way to reduce cattle bloat is to provide supplemental proxalene or bloat blocks to cattle, says Davis.

Lespedeza is a non-bloating legume that improves grazing in summer months, says Davis.  Lespedeza is a drought-tolerant, warm season legume that provides summer grazing in cool season mixed pastures. 

Do not overfertilize pastures with lespedeza, says Davis.  Most fertilizer applications containing more than 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre will reduce stands of lespedeza.  Lespedeza is an annual but will come back each year if it reseeds.

Clovers and lespedeza also help to reduce fescue toxicosis in cattle by diluting fescue pastures, says Davis.  Adding legumes results in better quality forages, improved cattle production and higher profits.

To learn more about fescue toxicosis in cattle, see “Tall Fescue Toxicosis” at

For more information, contact your local MU Extension agronomy or livestock field specialist. Find more resources on improving grasslands at