Use of legumes in wheat-bermudagrass pastures

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Bermudagrass is a productive forage species when intensively managed. However, it has periods of dormancy and requires proper use to maintain forage quality. Bermudagrass also requires adequate nitrogen (N) fertilizer to optimize forage yield and quality. Interseeding wheat or other small grains can lengthen the grazing season but this requires additional N fertilization.

Legumes in the bermudagrass pasture could improve forage quality and reduce fertilizer usage, but legumes are difficult to establish and maintain with the competitive grass. Clovers can maintain summer survival once established in bermudagrass sod and may be productive enough to substitute for some N fertilization. Including a winter annual legume with wheat could produce more N and forage crude protein.

At the Southeast Agricultural Research Center, we conducted a study to compare dry cow performance on a wheat-bermudagrass pasture system that included summer legumes with a single 50 lb/a N application vs. wheat-bermudagrass with additional N applications of 100 lb/a and no legumes.


The research was conducted on eight five-acre “Hardie” bermudagrass pastures at the Mound Valley Unit of the Southeast Agricultural Research Center (Parsons silt loam soil). Everest wheat (90 lb/a) was interseeded (no-till) into all eight bermudagrass sod pastures on September 19, 2012. The next day, 40 lb/acre of Austrian winter fieldpeas was interseeded into the four pastures assigned to the Legume treatment. These Legume pastures then received additional red clover (8 lb/acre) and ladino clover (3 lb/acre) by broadcast on march 7, 2013. Pastures that received no legumes were fertilized with 46 lb/acre N as urea each on February 5 and 50 lb/acre N on May 14, 2013. All pastures, both with and without clover, received 45-26-27 of N-P2O5-K2O on July 2.

Thirty-two pregnant fall-calving cows of predominantly Angus breeding were weighed on consecutive days and assigned randomly by weight to pastures on April 10. On July 23, the cows were weighed again on consecutive days and removed from the pastures.


Gains during the 2013 season were greater by an average of 20 percent for the Legume than the Nitrogen system. In the years that we've conducted this study, we've found increased performance with the legume about half of the time, and no difference the other half. Never has there been a reduction from the use of legumes in lieu of N.




Performance of cows grazing bermudagrass pastures interseeded with wheat and fertilized with nitrogen or interseeded with legumes, Mound Valley Unit, Southeast Agricultural Research Center, 2013


Nitrogen (no legume)


Nitrogen fertilizer (lb/acre)

45 (July) + 46 (Feb) + 50 (May)

45 (July)

Number of cows



Number of days on pasture



Stocking rate (cows/acre)



Cow gain (lbs) after 104 days



Cow daily gain (lbs)



Cow gain per acre (lb/acre)



Means within a row followed by a different letter were significantly different at P = 0.05.

Source: Agricultural Research 2014, K-State Report of Progress 1105, Southeast Agricultural Research Center,


Joe Moyer, Southeast Agricultural Research Center, Forage Agronomist

Lyle Lomas, Southeast Agricultural Research Center, Head and Animal Scientist