Legumes

Read on for the results of research into legumes for sheep production systems supported by NZSTX. These trials commenced in 2011, with the overall goal to improve productivity and sustainability of high country grazing systems. 

The following legume species were investigated for their potential in challenging high country environments:

Lucerne

Lucerne is a deep-rooted perennial legume which has the ability to extract soil moisture from deep in the soil profile. In areas with low rainfall, lucerne offers a high quality feed when other forage has ceased to grow. Lucerne is most productive in the high country in late spring and early summer which coincides with high feed demand from lactating ewes and their growing lambs.

Lucerne trials

Trial work undertaken by Lincoln University investigated whether lucerne can be grown successfully in challenging high country environments.

Where the sensitivity of lucerne to acidity (and the high levels of plant-available aluminium at low pH levels) cannot be addressed through liming, other legumes may need to be investigated.

Best management practice for lucerne 

For optimum plant and stock performance on established lucerne stands:

Spring – Rotationally graze each block at more than 20cm (1500kg DM/ha) for five to seven days, moving stock when all leaf and soft stem is gone.  Spell blocks for 35 to 42 days before grazing again.
Summer – Rotationally graze on a shorter rotation (about 35 days in total). Conserve true surpluses.
Autumn – Lengthen the rotation period so that at least 50% of the stems flower before grazing.  This allows plants to rebuild root reserves.
Winter – Hard graze when growth stops.  Spray for weeds within 10 days of finishing grazing.

Further information about lucerne 

Click on the following links for more information about lucerne:

Click here to sign up to the Beef + Lamb New Zealand lucerne text service, and click here for Lucerne - Summary Papers for Establishing and Managing Lucerne produced by B+LNZ.

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Click on the image for more information about how lucerne is being grown successfully at Bog Roy Station in the Waitaki Valley.

Click on the image for more information about how lucerne is being grown successfully at Bog Roy Station in the Waitaki Valley.

Click on the image to read about the challenges of growing lucerne in acidic soils with a high levels of plant-available aluminium at Glenmore Station.

Click on the image to read about the challenges of growing lucerne in acidic soils with a high levels of plant-available aluminium at Glenmore Station.


Annual clovers

Annual clovers are able to survive the summer by producing large amounts of hard seed before dying. This seed is able to rapidly germinate when rain arrives in late summer / autumn. Their quick establishment before winter means they provide a high quality feed during the next spring through to the early summer.  The seed bed lasts for two seasons; therefore annual clovers only need to re-seed every second year.

Annual clover trials

Trial work undertaken by Lincoln University investigated whether annual clovers can be used as an alternative legume to those that have traditionally been relied upon in hill country pastures. 

Click for more information about the annual clover trial at Omarama Station.

Click for more information about the annual clover trial at Omarama Station.

Click for guidelines on how to use balansa clover (a type of annual clover).

Click for guidelines on how to use balansa clover (a type of annual clover).

Rejuvenating clovers on uncultivable hill country

Protein-rich legumes are drivers of sheep production. They also fix atmospheric nitrogen, improving the quantity and quality of grass present. Managing pastures to increase legume content on uncultivable hill country pastures in an important step towards lifting productivity. Chemical topping can be an effective way to reduce competition from low quality grasses, allowing the resident clovers to re-establish.

Tips for success - 

  • Are resident clovers present? Open the sward to check for clover seedlings at the base. These will be the clover species you are managing for. White clover and subterranean clover are common in hill country pastures. If no clover seedlings can be found, chemical topping may not be worthwhile.
  • When deciding on which chemical to use, determine whether thistles are an issue. While glyphosate is cheaper than haloxyfop-P, it kills both grasses and broadleaf weeds, opening the ground for thistles to establish. If thistles are an issue, use haloxyfop-P.
  • Apply in either autumn or spring, although autumn spraying is typically more effective. Low quality grasses such as browntop are taking reserves down into their roots at this time.
  • If the spray treatment is successful at reducing grass competition and encouraging clover growth, ongoing grazing management is required. First, to keep the remaining grasses down, then to ensure that the clover is able to set seed and regenerate.

Click here (or on the image) for more information about rejuvenating clovers on uncultivable hill country.

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Caucasian clover

Caucasian clover is a persistent legume that tolerates drought and infertile soils.  Caucasian clover is very slow to establish and therefore susceptible to plant competition during its first year. However, once established, Caucasian clover persists without the need for re-sowing, making it an attractive option for some production systems.

Caucasian clover trials

Trial work undertaken by Lincoln University investigated the management of a mature stand of Caucasian clover, and the establishment of a new stand of Caucasian clover.

Further information about Caucasian clover 

Click on the following link for more information about Caucasian clover:

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Click for more information about the establishment and management of Caucasian clover at Lake Heron Station.

Click for more information about the establishment and management of Caucasian clover at Lake Heron Station.


Further information about Lincoln University forage research 

Click on the links below for the full reports from Lincoln University about the trials supported by NZM:

For field day handouts and presentations of the forage trials undertaken by Lincoln University, please visit their website

The Lincoln University Dryland Pastures Blog includes videos about the latest findings from the Lincoln University Dryland Pastures Research Team and tips on how to best manage high-performance legume species like lucerne.

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