December 2007
Featured Articles

Bring Clover on Over

  This image shows a mixture of red and white clover growing well in the same plot.
By John Howle

On an episode of Andy Griffith where Gomer Pyle joins the Marines, Gomer makes Sergeant Carter angry and has to sit with his head under a bucket to "think" about the mistake he had made. Gomer tells Andy how effective this method is and invites Andy to sit under the bucket to take a good think. While I haven’t had success thinking with my head under a bucket, two of the best places I’ve found for thinking are in the seclusion of a treestand in December or humming along in the seat of a tractor. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lot of thinking to realize how important clover is for food plots and livestock forage.

Every time I plant cool season clovers, I am paid back three ways. First, it fixes nitrogen which reduces the fertilizer bill. Second, deer, turkeys and other wildlife enjoy it and get valuable protein from the rich forage. Finally, it is a forage that grows well with pasture grasses for livestock.

Which type clover to choose

There are many varieties of clover that will grow well in Alabama. However, my top two choices for both wildlife and livestock are white and red clover. Red clover, also called cow clover, is a short lived perennial, but if it is mowed on a timed basis, a good stand will last for a few years. White clover is also a perennial that can last for years, and timed mowing keeps this variety working well by itself or with grasses.

A hand operated seed sower does an excellent job of sowing clover at just the right amount in smaller plots.  
One advantage to selecting clovers that don’t have to be planted year after year like annuals is convenience. Often the remote locations of food plots may make if difficult to plant each year after year. It’s easier to mow clover in remote food plots on a regular basis as compared with cultivating and planting each year. In addition, cool season grasses such as oats, wheat and ryegrass can be planted in these clover plots in remote sites with success.

Save extra toil and test the soil

Whether it’s a first time food plot or a permanent pasture, soil testing is the best investment you can make before planting and the procedure doesn’t cost more than a couple of bags of fertilizer. State on the soil sample specifically what you intend to plant and whether it will be established - pastureland or food plots. This way, the lab can send an accurate report for the amount of lime and fertilizer needed. If you are planting only clover, obviously the nitrogen requirements will be less and that means lower total costs.

On pastures closely grazed in the winter, another method of planting involves broadcasting the clover seeds in pastures and letting the livestock work the seeds into the ground through hoof traffic.

  Getting accurate soil samples and stating on the soil test what you intend to plant will give accurate recommendations of the amount of fertilizer and lime needed, and it only costs as much as a couple of bags of fertilizer to complete the process.
I prefer a planting method between the two for food plots. During December, I’ll use a disc to break up the ground well enough to expose dirt around any remaining grasses or food plot growth. Next, I broadcast approximately 15 pounds of clover (red and white) per acre. I get the advantages of fairly good seed to soil contact and I get some of the benefits of the frosting and thawing of the soil to further work the seeds into the ground. This saves me time and money, and since red and white clover germinate fairly easily, I usually always get a good stand.

Since clover is a small seed, it doesn’t require a huge amount of work to get decent seed to soil contact. Both red and white varieties have a hearty germination rate and that’s another cost-saving factor. To make sure I apply the correct amount of clover per acre in small plots, I use empty juice containers to hold the seed. Once the container is clean and dry, I place the empty, 64-ounce juice container on a set of accurate scales and fill the bottle with the precise amount of seed. This prevents spillage on the way to the field. Also, since a little clover goes a long way, I usually broadcast the clover with a hand-operated seed sower for more accuracy.

Count on clover for wildlife and livestock

Since cool season clovers such as red and white do most of their productive growing in late winter and early spring, the turkeys will benefit greatly from the succulent, new growth at a time when they really need it. Deer usually eat the leaves of the red clover instead of the stalks, and this allows continual, uninterrupted growth of the plants and a regular supply of nutrients. Finally, pasture forage for livestock is increased and improved with the addition of cool season clovers.

In test fields in Missouri, for instance, red clover was seeded into fescue pastures and the yields were increased 35 percent above those plots receiving 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre. In addition, since red clover is high in magnesium, it can work well for early spring grazing and help reduce the amount of grass tetany.

Clover is a common sense investment for any food plot or pasture and a multitude of varieties in addition to red and white will be available at your local Quality Co-op. This December while you are thinking in that treestand or on that tractor seat, be sure to give considerable thought to clover this winter.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.