Growing and feeding lucerne

Published 19 May 14

Lucerne is a useful source of protein for feeding to cattle and sheep. A high-yielding legume, its roots naturally fix nitrogen making it a cost effective crop to grow either on its own or with carefully selected companion grasses or cereals.

However, it is not suitable for all farms – and will not perform or persist on heavy land or waterlogged soils, these conditions are likely to rot its deep tap root. This means farms with high rainfall are unlikely to grow lucerne successfully.

For those farming on free-draining or even drought-prone sites, lucerne can be a good accompaniment to grow and feed alongside other forages such as grass or maize.

Lucerne can be slow to establish and may need nurturing in the early stages, requiring adequate supplies of a range of macro- and micro-nutrients. The crown must be protected at all times when cutting or grazing, but with care a stand can last four to five years.

Research in the UK and overseas suggests lucerne can support exceptional animal performance and is worth considering when drawing up winter forage plans.

Information in this document has been compiled to provide you with best practice advice on the growing and feeding of lucerne for dairy cattle. Currently researchers at HAU, SRUC and University of Reading are investigating the effect of rate of inclusion, cutting date and chop length of lucerne silage in dairy cow diets. More information is available here.