Evaluation of Kura Clover in Intensive Grazing Systems

Final Report for FNC95-124

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1995: $538.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Kendall Farms consists of 811 acres. Of this, 360 acres is rotational cropland involving corn, oats, alfalfa and some CRP acreage. Approximately 346 acres are in pasture and grazed woodland, and 78 acres are enrolled in the Forest Reserve. On average about 140 head of beef cows are maintained with all of the calves fed to slaughter weight. My goal is to develop an intensive grazing system to convert marginal cropland to improved pasture and manage the wooded areas for forest products. I developed my first rotational paddocks in 1995 on former cropland.

The intent of this project is to successfully establish stand of Kura Clover and mixed grasses. Records were kept of all germane establishment data and practices. Each year for at least three years beginning in spring of 1997 (one year after establishment) stands will be evaluated for yields, density and composition. The results will be summarized at the end of each growing season for three years. Establishing Kura Clover requires a multi-year commitment to attain good stands so patience is required.

It is hoped Kura Clover will prove to be a valuable addition to the present grazing system as a winter hardy perennial legume that will spread by rhizomes during the projects duration and beyond providing a productive stand for many years.

Due to a last minute change of location no soil samples were taken of the test plot prior to seeding as would be the norm, however liming and fertilizing were done to an extent common for the test location on the two acre plot. The location change was made due to enhanced access and proximity to other planned demonstration projects at the alternative site. Further, the soil type and location has had a history of being conductive to clover production and is fairly representative of terrain used for pasture in this area.

The demonstration plot is located along a narrow ridge typical of the area and was laid out in an eighty foot width in the hope of reducing erosion in a spring marked by heavy rains. The lower forty foot of the plot was seeded with a companion crop to further control erosion on the Fayette Loam soil type that is erosion prone by its nature. (See table 1 for replications of Kura and grass combinations).

Spring of 1996 was unusually cold and wet in the Bellevue, Iowa area with seeding delayed until May 22 at which time the soil temperature was still slightly under forty degrees. Moldboard plowing was done on May 21 in hope of reducing competition from existing grasses. The plot was then double disked and double cultipacked prior to seeding both to provide a firm seedbed and to incorporate the lime and fertilizer. A Brillion cultipacking seeder was used to assure shallow seed placement and good see to soil contact.

As the demonstration plot was part of a larger pasture and in view of the long term nature of the demonstration a permanent four wire 82 rod fence was built around the plot on May 30th.

Clover had some emergence by June 1 but growth was hampered by continuing cold, wet weather. Growing conditions were considered to be poor. Soil temperature one weed after planting was 40 degrees.

On August 12 the plot was cut and baled to remove the considerable volunteer grasses and weeds as well as the cover crop. No cattle were grazed on the plot during 1996 for fear of hoof damage to the clover but calves were allowed a light grazing at late fall in the hope of preventing grasses from forming mature seed heads.

Nature immediately overwhelmed the erosion prevention efforts employed with heavy washing rains totaling four inches in the first week after seeding. Week two had one and three quarter’s inches with heavy rains continuing into mid June.

Sheet and rill erosion was quite noticeable resulting in severe translocation of the seeding in about forty percent of the plot. Much of this seed was probably buried too deep for erosion from upslope for emergence to occur or carried completely off the plot.

Despite the erosion Jim Ranum, an extension pasture specialist, felt during an early August evaluation there was enough Kura Clover present to have the potential for an eventual viable stand in much of the plot if rhizome activity is successful in years two, three and beyond. The grass seeds placed in many of the replications appeared to have fared worse then the Kura Clover due to the ease of washing away with heavy runoff.

A localized dry period in late August promoted the growth of many species of weeds while hampering clover growth. As mentioned above, the plot was cut and baled to reduce competition and prevent weeds going to seed.

Due to the slow establishment nature and Kura Clover no field days were planned for the first year of the project as there really was not much to see but some small seedlings.

1997 Activities:
Spring of 1997 was again marked by a late and very cool spring similar to 1996. as of May 10 the ground temperature was still under 50 degrees at the test site. Hoping to enhance the Clover’s second year rhizome spreading tendency the plot was fertilized with granular P and K at the rate of 152 P and 70 K per acre on April 23.

On May 21 Jim Ranum of Iowa State Extension, Theresa Weiss of the local NRCS office and Kevin Brown conducted an evaluation and stand count on the one year anniversary of the initial Kura Clover seeding.

Generally, everyone was pleased with the results finding an average of five plants per square foot during the stand counts. Jim felt this was more than adequate of this point to assure a good stand in the third year when true clover production should start.

In addition, substantial tillering action was clearly evident, as general literature suggests is typical of Kura Clover’s growth pattern in its second year. It was surprising how much more pronounced the tillering was than a month earlier; probably a result of the very cool spring temperatures.

All parties came away looking forward to the spring 1998 evaluation at which time Ranum thought the Kura Clover has the potential to represent a large percentage of the total stand which currently has a substantial grass component.

In mid-June the plot was mechanically harvested to reduce the competition from the grass while the plants are in a significant tillering stage of the stand’s development.

Starting about July 1 potato leafhoppers and grasshoppers infestations became quite severe in this area. After treating adjacent hay fields the demonstration plot was sprayed for leafhoppers and also treated with three gallons per acre 3-18-18 liquid Natures Fertilizer on July 5.

Insect pressure in the plot remained very heavy and it was treated at the end of July and again in mid August for leafhoppers and grasshoppers. It is felt some reduction in growth should be attributed to the intense insect pressure but hopefully timely treatment prevented any significant stand damage.

A second mechanical harvest of the plot was done in late August rather than grazing in recognition of the insect damage and to spare any hoof damage to the newly emerging plants produced by tillering. In December the plot will be grazed as stockpiled forage once the ground is completely frozen.

August 5, 1997 saw fifty two people attend the Kura Clover field day which was held in conjunction with a field day for the Eastern Iowa Hay Producers alfalfa plots and livestock manure control structure demonstration for the NRCS, all located in close proximity to each other on the Brown farm here at Bellevue, Iowa. Ed Andrews of the Jackson County NRCS filled in for Virgil Schmidt, the local extension crop specialist, who had to cancel shortly before the field day. However, Mr Andrews is quite knowledgeable in pasture management and native grass seeding and gave an informative summary of the project and Kura Clovers potential as a pasture legume. It should be noted interest in Kura Clover appeared to be high as Jackson County consistently ranks at or near the top for Beef cow numbers in Iowa.

Currently, another field day is planned on or about August 5, 1998 and again in 1999. The 1997 field day even had the good fortune to receive substantial free publicity in the local press and therefore no expenditures were made to publicize the event this year. In addition the Jackson county NRCS paid for the cost of the free lunch provided on August 5th. Since this is not likely to occur again in 1998 and 1999 it is anticipated remaining grant funds will be used for outreach in the future.

While the initial establishment suffered form the vagrancies of nature, if the demonstration plot can continue the recovery that appears to be underway as of fall 1997 this plot may yet become a testimonial to the tenacity of Kura Clover. During year three the plot will be incorporated into the grazing sequence of the other paddocks on the farm.

Having established other mixed forage pasture paddocks on marginal ground close to the Kura plot in recent years it has become increasingly clear perseverance must be maintained in the knowledge it takes about three years to create a good productive pasture sward.

In conclusion, Kura Clover has been called a forage that sleeps, creeps then leaps in its first three years and this project is proving that statement true.

Table 1

Two acre Kura Clover demonstration plot
- Limed at 4 tons/acre in April 1996
- Fertilized with 144# P and 120# K per acre
- Plowed and disked on May 21, 1996
- Cultipacked and seeded May 2, 1996
- Received 4” of heavy rainfall in first week after planting
- Ground temp was 40 degrees on May 29, 1996
- Cut and baled August 12, 1996 to remove weeds
- Very dry period in August

24’ Kura Clover only
8’ Kura Clover and Brome
16’ Kura Clover & Oats
16’ Kura Clover, Oats & Timothy
16’ Kura Clover, Oats & Brome

Seeding rates:
Kura Clover 7.5 lbs
Brome 3.0 lbs
Timothy 3.0 lbs
Oats 100.0 lbs

Rainfall totals:
One months rainfall—
Week 1 4 inches
Week 2 1.75 inches
Week 3 0.7 inches
Week 4 1.25 inches


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.