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Master Grazer Educational Program reports to KY Ag Development Fund Board:

2017 First Quarter Report
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Zach Workman

Master Grazer Coordinator
821B W.P. Garrigus Building
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY
(859) 257-7512
E-mail: zewo222@uky.edu

Faculty Coordinators:

Dr. Ray Smith

Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952  
Email: raysmith1@uky.edu

Dr. Donna Amaral-Phillips

Extension Dairy Cattle Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-7542
Fax: (859) 257-7537  
Email: damaral@uky.edu

Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler

Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-2853
Fax: (859) 257-3412  
Email: jeff.lehmkuhler@uky.edu


Annual Lespedeza for Forage and Grazing

Lespedeza is a legume that was first planted in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, it is commonly associated with the name Japanese clover. It was not until the 1940s and 50s that lespedeza became more common was more popular in pastures. Currently the southeastern United States is the main location annual lespedeza is used for grazing livestock.

Perennial or Annual?

The annual lespedeza types commonly used today are ‘Korean’ and ‘Common’. These are easier to manage than their perennial counterpart, Sericea lespedeza. Annual lespedeza grows well in poor soil and is resilient to long periods of drought. Lespedeza seed is cheaper, requires less fertility to grow and provides nearly as much forage yield in mid-to late summer (Figure 1). This makes it a great summer legume for grazing livestock. In addition, since it is a legume it can “fix” nitrogen from the air and convert nitrogen into a form that the lespedeza and surrounding grass plants can use. Annual lespedeza has been used as an alternative to alfalfa on poor soils.

Figure: 1 Forage Yields for Legumes & Cool-Season Grass: Note. Cool-Season grass with legumes (Kenyon, n.d.)

A number of pros and cons exist when using annual lespedez. Annual lespedeza is fine stemmed and contains much lower percentage of tannins than Sericea lespedeza. Although annual lespedeza tolerates low pH and droughty soils, it is adapted to a range of soil types and grows best when pH is above 6.0 with P and K at adequate levels. Annual lespedeza also thrives well when planted with Cool-Season grasses such as tall fescue and orchardgrass. Farmers who graze alfalfa will find annual lespedeza to be lower in quality, but the tannin content eliminates the risk of bloat for cattle.

Planting and Seeding Rate

The best time to plant annual lespedeza in Kentucky is late February through-early April. Since it is a Warm-Season legume, adequate forage for grazing may not be readily available until June. The chart above compares Cool-Season legumes and what time of year they have the most forage available.

Generally, 15 to- 25 lbs seed per acre should be broadcast when frost seeding in February or 15-20 lbs per acre when established with a no-till drill for late March/early April seedings. Once established, annual lespedeza will come back each year as long as the field is rested in September so that the plants are allowed to “go to seed.”

Annual lespedeza may not be as popular as other legumes such as alfalfa or red clover but it does have its advantages. Annual lespedeza offers a cheaper alternative to alfalfa for grazing in the summer months. It can also be a beneficial hay when managed.