The Good and Bad of Too Much Sweet Clover

The Good and Bad of Too Much Sweet Clover

June 26, 2009

Many growers may be noticing an abundance of yellow sweet clover in their grasses or pastures this summer. This has its advantages and disadvantages.

Sweet clover is a legume that can provide more nitrogen to adjacent grasses than most other legumes. Following a heavy sweet clover year, the next year's grasses may get a production boost.

Sweet clover also provides good quality grazing similar to alfalfa before plants bloom heavily. After blooming, plants get stemmy and woody, reducing both feed value and palatability. Even young plants are quite bitter. If other plants are available to graze, cattle eat only limited amounts of sweet clover. This greatly reduces bloat hazards, which are a risk when sweet clover is abundant.

Feeding Spoiled Sweet Clover Risky

The biggest risk of heavy sweet clover is in hay. Specifically, in moldy hay.

Spoiled sweet clover produces a chemical called dicoumarin that interferes with metabolism and synthesis of vitamin K. Without vitamin K, blood will not clot properly after an injury and blood can even seep out of otherwise healthy blood vessels. That's why sweet clover poisoning also is called sweet clover bleeding disease.

Make sure hay containing sweet clover is extra dry before baling or storing to prevent mold. And remember: mold can develop on perfectly dry bales if they get wet, so outdoor storage is risky. If you must feed moldy sweet clover, alternate by feeding moldy hay for a week followed by alfalfa or other non-moldy forage for a week. This intermittent feeding is safer than mixing good and moldy hay.

Sound management will enable you to handle the bad with the good when sweet clover is abundant.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist

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