Reduced soil moisture and higher temperature in summer not only cause a decline in the growth of perennial ryegrass but also reduce its nutritional value.
Perennial legumes like red clover and lucerne are more adapted to grow under drought conditions than most perennial grasses. In these species, nutritional value is less affected in summer than perennial ryegrass.
Benefits of feeding legumes compared to pure grass-based diets include:
- Increased milk and milk solids production.
- Reduced methane emissions.
- More efficient nitrogen use.
These responses are usually due to the higher DM intake of cows fed legumes and the higher nutritional value of the legumes.
Perennial legumes can be grown as a pure crop to be grazed through summer during part of the day, or sown as companion species of grasses.
Perennial legumes: Lucerne, red and white clover (PDF, 1.4MB)
This factsheet discusses some of the 3030 Project experiences with perennial legumes on plots, farmlets and partner farm studies, and highlights some key aspects of their potential role in dairy farm systems of southern Australia. It covers only the perennial legume species that have been used in 3030 Project studies: Lucerne (Medicago sativa), red clover (Trifolium pratense) and white clover (Trifolium repens).
Lucerne is a drought-tolerant option to provide feed in summer and adapts well to grazing conditions under the right management.
Red clover and white clover perform best when combined with perennial grasses or herbs to increase summer feed production and quality.
All perennial legumes tend to increase nutritive value and milk production response of grass-based diets.
Bloat risks are important and should be considered but they can be managed. Feed allocation is a key factor to reduce the risk.
Lucerne, red clover and white clover all require soils with good fertility to perform and lucerne, in particular, requires well-drained soils.