Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Red Clover


Just because she doesn't get much respect does not mean that she is not capable of doing some heavy-lifting

 Red Clover is a forage plant that does not get much respect.

Everybody has something to complain about. Red Clover is a short-lived plant and you have to keep frost-seeding it. Red Clover does not produce as much as alfalfa. Red Clover produces phytoestrogens that can impact the fertility of sheep.

On the plus side, seed is inexpensive, it is less fussy about soil than alfalfa and it frost-seeds like a dream.

One of the ironic things about Red Clover is that plant breeder's attempts to increase how long it persists after seeding unwittingly increased the phytoestrogen content of the forage.

The general way to select for longevity is to go to a field that was seeded with Red Clover ten or fifteen years ago, spray a herbicide that selectively kills the grass and then collect seeds from the Red Clover plants that somehow survived to Methuselah status.

Those phytoestrogens repel insect pests and may provide some degree of disease resistance and by selecting for longevity the researchers were also selecting for higher phytoestrogen content.

Researchers in Australia took an unusual tack. They are promoting the growing of high PE Red Clover for the herbal market. The plant is used by women approaching menopause and it (reputedly) minimizes the discomfort many women experience.

Managing Red Clover to reduce phytoestrogens

Don't try to grow pure stands of Red Clover. Frankly, Red Clover dries better for hay when grown with later-maturing grass.

There are four major phytoestrogens that are typically found in Red Clover:

  • Biochanin
  • Formononetin
  • Genistein
  • Daidzein

Biochanin and Formononetin are typically 90% or more of the total by weight and Formononetin appears to be the most biologically active in sheep.

Select a lower Formononetin cultivar like Kenland.

Harvest your hay at a slightly later stage of maturity as the Formononetin percentage drops as the clover becomes more mature.


  1. So when my wife complains about hot flashes I need to give her some hay?
    You're a strange man Mr. Joe. LOL!

    1. Red Clover has higher phytoestrogen levels when it has been mechanically damaged or bugs attacked it.

      I recommend that you use hay from the most deer-trampled or the buggiest corner.

      Your mileage will vary.

  2. Interesting twist, if you will, on clover. We grew it as a 'fallow' field option.

  3. Out here in Western Oregon we raise red clover for seed. This week the fields are windrowed and ready to chop for insilage. In late August the second growth will be ready to combine. Common practice to seed red clover with a nurse crop, oats or a brassica in the early spring. The first seed crop comes off the next summer. The fields are usually good for two seed crops.- G706

  4. This is the first I ever heard of this. I used to seed my pastures and hay fields with Red Clover along with trefoil and various grasses. It was highly recommended by MSU Extension Service. Made great hay and pasture and I always had a good crop of angora goat kidds and lambs. It's been about 25 years since I last seeded and there is still lots of red clover and trefoil out there. ---ken

  5. Reading about soil reclamation in the south. The basic instructions boil down to lime it and plant clover. The dialogue seemed to assume some sort of grass already in place but suffering and low in nutritional value. Rounded up the Bermuda as my first spot is shaded and home to the septic field. Planted red clover and a shade friendly dwarf fescue. Probably some creeping red in there too. It is interesting how green the grass is where the clover germinated well compared to an area of sparse germination. A 1954 soil survey map called my dirt "red clay silt". Pretty sure some topsoil had accumulated from the forestry effort since 1954 but I figure it is in the foot high berms at the lower edge of my front yard thanks to the home building process. The deer surely like eating it.

  6. Forage is not something I have really dealt with yet as the Ranch is usually well provided with native grasses through late May/ Early June. That said, the Cowboy is thinking about introducing some irrigation so longer term it might become a thing.


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