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Topics : Species and Forage Variety Trials : Species Fact Sheets : Birdsfoot Trefoil

Species: Birdsfoot Trefoil

Additional birdsfoot trefoil information via the Forage Information System (FIS)

Birdsfoot Trefoil Harvest Management

When harvested as hay, the first cutting of birdsfoot trefoil should be taken at 1/10th bloom and a second cutting in mid to late August. Sufficient time for regrowth between cuttings or grazing is recommended for stand maintenance. Root reserves may not be sufficient to initiate regrowth if the trefoil plant is totally defoliated in midsummer when root reserves are low.

Trefoil is not as resistant as alfalfa to Fusarium-type diseases , therefore, individual trefoil plants will not survive as long as alfalfa. In order to maintain a stand of trefoil, a management system which allows the trefoil to reseed itself is necessary.

Heavy grazing pressure may be needed in the spring to reduce lush growth and allow trefoil to better compete in a grass mixture. Trefoil will compete under continuous grazing better than alfalfa. However, close, continuous grazing is not recommended because trefoil regrowth depends on energy supplied by top growth. Unlike alfalfa, trefoil does not maintain high levels of root reserves during the summer.

Harvesting or grazing between September 1 and the first killing frost is not recommended. This period is needed to allow root reserves to accumulate to improve winter survival and growth the following spring.

Birdsfoot trefoil quality is greater than that of alfalfa because of increased "bypass" protein and smaller stems. Loss of quality with maturity is less pronounced with trefoil than alfalfa. However, leaf loss during hay making may be greater than alfalfa. When grazed, trefoil is more palatable than alfalfa and produces greater average daily gains and meat yield per acre for heifers and sheep. Unlike alfalfa, grazed trefoil does not cause animals to bloat.

The practice of not harvesting birdsfoot trefoil during the second half of the summer and grazing it in the fall after the first killing frost is known as stockpiling. Trefoil is well suited for stockpiling since it holds its leaves at maturity and after frosts, thus maintaining a relatively high level of quality. Stockpiling also allows root reserves to accumulate during the fall, which improves plant survival and spring growth.

Additional and more detailed information on birdsfoot trefoil harvest management is available.