Extension by Anowar Islam
Birdsfoot trefoil is a short-lived perennial forage legume. Its origin is the Mediterranean region. It has deep root system, fine stem and more leaves than alfalfa.
Birdsfoot trefoil grows up to 30 inches tall if it is an erect type, or up to 12 inches or more if prostrate type. The leaves of the plant do not have any hairiness. The flower color is bright yellow. Seed pod color is brown to purple, and seed pods radiate from the stem, resembling a bird’s foot, hence the plant’s name.
Under proper management, they have the ability to naturally reseed.
Planting Birdsfoot trefoil
Birdsfoot trefoil does very well in humid, temperate regions but can also be grown in areas and valleys with dependable winter snow cover. It is adapted to wide range of soils and has good tolerance to acidity, alkalinity, low fertility, drought and poor drainage. It is primarily used for pasture and has good compatibility with grass mixtures.
Birdsfoot trefoil is slow to establish. However, once it establishes, it produces a thick stand and gets thicker from year two and onwards.
Seeds need to be planted in spring or late summer at the rate of four to eight pounds per acre. In case of mixture with grass, a lower rate of seeding, only three to six pounds per acre, should be used.
Planting depth is also important. Planting too deep is not recommended. Planting depths of 0.125 to 0.25 inches should be maintained.
Seeds also need to be inoculated with appropriate bacterial inoculants for nitrogen fixation.
Birdsfoot trefoil is not very shade tolerant, and competition with weeds and other plants needs to be controlled.
Use for livestock
At early flowering, grazing may begin. It does not cause bloat, so frequent grazing can be done. However, a rest period is required, so grazing periods shouldn’t be too close.
It is well suited for stockpiling because it maintains high quality forage after flowering.
It may be cut for hay at early flowering stage, but leaf shatter may be an issue in field drying. Two to three cuts are possible, depending on the locations and weather conditions.
It is not advisable to harvest four to six weeks before killing frost.
Natural reseeding is important to maintain good stands and productivity. Birdsfoot trefoil needs to be allowed to produce some seeds each year.
Fewer pests have been reported for birdsfoot trefoil compared to alfalfa. Crown and root rots may be a problem in some soils which may weaken or kill plants. Nematodes may also be a problem in sandy soils. Therefore, natural reseeding is required to maintain the stands.
Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the UW Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.