Sweetclover shows up naturally in pastures each year. Many folks think of it as just another weed. Let me try to describe ways to use it so it becomes a welcome addition to your grasslands.
Sweetclover can be a curse or a blessing. Ignore it in pastures and it can get coarse, stemmy, and unpalatable. Just like some problem weeds. Ignore it in haylands and it could actually kill livestock if the hay gets moldy.
For these reasons, some people would prefer to just kill it. Who can blame them if these are the results they get? Fortunately, it is easy to kill with almost any broadleaf herbicide when plants are young.
Even more fortunate, though, in my opinion, is your potential to manage it correctly to take advantage of sweetclover’s forage value.
Sweetclover’s feed value in hay is very similar to alfalfa provided you do two things – harvest before plants bloom and make sure hay is made dry and stays dry. Sounds simple in theory but weather can make it difficult to accomplish in practice.
If grazing, you must start before plants get more than about eight inches tall. Any later than that the plants could quickly become coarse and unpalatable. I like to start when they are only three or four inches tall, then keep enough animals on it so it doesn’t get much taller. But be sure animals also have plenty of other palatable forage to eat along with the sweetclover. This way bloat risk is low and animals will eat more. If grassy leaves, not just stubble, remain in the pasture from last year, this is good enough. Also good are bales of good grass hay or even clean, soft straw.
Sweetclover does not need to be a headache. With wise management you can take advantage of this bonus feed.
Bruce Anderson, Nebraska Extension Forage Specialist
University of Nebraska–Lincoln