Extension News

Kura Clover: A Viable Forage for Midwest Pasture


AMES, Iowa - - Kura clover has many characteristics that beef producers need. The hardy forage legume is persistent, winter-hardy, grazing-tolerant and endures both drought and poor drainage. Additionally, kura clover is a high-quality forage for cattle. 

With all these wonderful characteristics, one would guess that producers would have no hesitations adding kura to their pasture systems, but kura has unique establishment challenges and therefore suffers from a bad reputation. However, forage experts at Iowa State University (ISU) and the University of Wisconsin (UW) say that when attempting to establish kura clover into Midwest pastures, persistence pays off.

“Kura clover is slow to establish not because of a lack of vigor, but because of its growth characteristics,” says Ken Moore, professor of agronomy at ISU.  “For the first few years of growth, kura will put most of its energy into root and rhizome development, rather than leaves and stems.”  Rhizomes are underground stems that grow outward from the original plant.

“Once seedlings are established, kura’s small stature puts it at risk to be taken over by grass,” adds Moore. Strategic grazing or clipping can be used throughout the summer to control competition from grasses and weeds.

Dan Undersander, UW professor or agronomy, agrees that a successful kura clover stand requires no special tactics, just careful attention to detail.  “The same steps to establish other legumes apply to kura clover, but kura is much less forgiving if these steps are not carefully followed.”

Undersander adds that kura clover is compatible in mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, smooth bromegrass and other legumes.  In fact, research has shown that mixtures of six pounds of kura clover and birdsfoot trefoil (2 pounds) or red clover (1 pound) have resulted in higher forage production during the establishment year without significant negative effects on long-term kura performance.

To establish kura clover, Moore recommends a prepared seedbed, or no-till seeding into dead sod.  Frost seeding is not recommended; seeding should be done in early spring to take advantage of abundant moisture or late summer to avoid weed competition.  A seeding depth of 0.25  to 0.5 inch is preferred, and seeding rates of kura should be 4 to 10 pounds per acre in a solid stand, or 2 to 6 pounds per acre when mixed with other forages. 

For Iowa and the Upper Midwest, Moore recommends the kura cultivars of Rhizo, Cossack, Endura and NP93. Undersander advises that kura seed can be expensive, due to low seed yields and difficulty in cleaning the seed. Additionally, kura seed must be inoculated with Rhizobia to ensure nitrogen fixation. Undersander explains that “Rhizobia that work with kura clover are not naturally found in Midwest soils.”

Weed control options with herbicides are limited, especially when kura clover is sown with grass.  Moore advises that the best weed control techniques are to start with a clean seedbed and to graze or mow the new stand when the cover exceeds ten inches in height to control competition.

Once kura clover is established, producers can begin to reap the nutritional benefits. While initial yields tend to be lower, and fiber content is low compared to other popular forages, kura’s levels of protein and digestibility (as a percentage of dry matter) are higher than alfalfa, trefoil, orchardgrass and brome. 

Additionally, when managed well, kura’s persistence rivals white clover, with nearly 100 percent  persistence once established. However, because of its high protein and low fiber content, kura clover has the potential to cause bloat.  “Producers new to kura clover should watch their cattle closely for signs of bloat,” says Moore.

When given the proper establishment care, kura clover can be a very persistent, high-quality forage for producers.  For more information, contact Ken Moore at (515) 294-5482 or kjmoore@iastate.edu, or Dan Undersander at (608) 263-5070 or djunders@wisc.edu.

Contacts :
Ken Moore, Iowa State University, (515)294-5482, kjmoore@iastate.edu
Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin, (608) 263-5070, djunders@wisc.edu
Rachel E. Martin, Iowa Beef Center, (515) 294-9124, remartin@iastate.edu