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Got Trefoil?

By   /  August 11, 2014  /  7 Comments

Here’s a great forage that you should think about for your pastures, what it can do for you, and how you can manage it best so it can do its job.

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In some parts of the country, one of the best-kept secrets for good pasture performance may be a for
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About the author

Mark is the Soils Agronomist for Organic Valley and CROPP Cooperative. He has spent most of his life working in agriculture. After serving in the Marine Corps, Mark attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where he earned a Bachelor of Science in soil science and a minor in agronomy. He worked two years as a soil scientist with the Soil Conservation Service and then attended graduate school at UW-Madison where he completed a master’s degree in soil science. Mark worked for over 24 years an agriculture agent for UW-Extension providing education to farmers throughout Wisconsin, focusing on crop and soil management. In 2012, he accepted his current position, where he helps cooperative members and others to improve their crop and soil management skills. He and his family have operated a small grass based dairy farm in northern Wisconsin for over 20 years and have been members of Organic Valley since 2007.


  1. Mark Kopecky says:

    Thanks for passing along those observations, Paul. Trefoil probably isn’t perfect for every situation, yet I think it should work fine in your area as a component of a healthy, diverse sward. When we introduce it into an existing stand, especially a vigorous one, it’s important to weaken the stand as much as possible the year before you want to introduce the trefoil. This means starting hard, tight, frequent grazings in late summer and fall. Intentional “untoward acceleration.” The following spring, hopefully the trefoil seedlings will be able to at least get their heads up with the other species. It may also take a few rounds of flash grazing to keep the seedlings from being shaded out. If you can even get a marginal component established, and then manage it appropriately, it will usually colonize the pasture over time. Good luck!

  2. Paul Nehring says:

    I like the idea of using trefoil in my pastures, but have never successfully been able to establish it. A few plants come through, but not enough to make a difference. It just doesn’t seem to compete well, unless the land is not very fertile or unless it is seeded alone, or with grasses that are also slow to establish–I have seen a pure stand successfully established on a fertile Wisconsin grazing farm, but that dairy farmer could not get trefoil to establish in mixes that he planted.

    Maybe the best approach is to seed it in pure stands in a row or two, when seeding a pasture, just to have it in there for variety for the livestock.

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Maybe trefoil isn’t the answer for you. Maybe we can find you something else that provides the same benefits but is easier to grow. That way you don’t have to work so hard and you still get what you need.

      • Paul Nehring says:

        Agree. There are other species that work much better in my area. I like to try a variety of plant species in different situations to see what works. There are other ways to get tannins such as chicory, that work well for me.

  3. Chip Hines says:

    Since I am from a very dry part of the country, what I most appreciated was the info about tannin’s. We do have plants with tannin’s although I did not know the value.
    Chip Hines

  4. Jess Jackson Jr. Grazing Specialist NRCS Iowa says:

    Also a great defense against the endophyte fungus in Tall Fescue. Livestock Foraging Behavior In Response To
    Sequence and Interactions Among Alkaloids,
    Tannins, and Saponins
    Tiffanny L. Jensen
    Utah State University
    This Dissertation is brought to you for free and open access by the
    Graduate Studies, School of at DigitalCommons@USU. It has been
    accepted for inclusion in All Graduate Theses and Dissertations by an
    authorized administrator of DigitalCommons@USU. For more
    information, please contact becky.thoms@usu.edu.

    • Mark Kopecky says:

      Jess and Chip,

      Thanks for those thoughtful comments! Yes, it seems that trefoil has just the right level of tannins to make it very useful without compromising the intake or quality of the forage.
      I have spoken with Dr. MadAdam about this extensively and have heard Dr. Fred Provenza speak about how the combination or trefoil and TF works so well. It makes me wonder about what other combination of species we might be able to use to overcome antiquality factors in forages in other areas.
      Thanks for the reference to Tiffany Jensen’s dissertation on this! Sounds like there should be a lot more useful info in her writeup.
      Thanks again!


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