14 March 1996

Forage legumes

lift performance at reduced cost

Forage legumes promise many benefits. Jonathan Riley reports

FORAGE legumes can improve livestock performance through higher intakes and improved protein utilisation.

Speaking at the Quality Forage for Ruminants conference at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, Gordon Newman said that better killing-out percentages for beef, heavier lamb carcass weights and improved milk yield in cows were all possible with nitrogen-fixing legumes such as clover, lucerne and sainfoin.

"The reduced nitrogen requirement and improved animal performance could confer significant financial gains, particularly in more extensive sheep and beef systems where the long-term saving could amount to £60/ha.

"Although legumes have a lower digestibility than grass, the rate at which digestibility declines with maturity is slower.

Higher intake

The higher intake associated with legumes is due to a more rapid particle breakdown than with grass. Intakes for example for lucerne are, therefore, 20-30% higher than grass. This allows the rumen to clear more quickly encouraging further forage consumption," said Mr Newman.

The ability of the deep rooting legumes to survive droughts also pays dividends; lucerne is able to deliver yields 15t DM/ha irrespective of rainfall.