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Varieties of Birdsfoot Trefoil, a Non-Bloating Forage Legume

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In June 2017, I wrote an article about establishment of birdsfoot trefoil. In that article, I discussed the effects of planting method and cutting frequency on growth, yield and nutritive value of birdsfoot trefoil. Birdsfoot trefoil can be established successfully under Wyoming conditions if appropriate management practices are in place.

Recently, I received several calls about birdsfoot trefoils, especially about varieties.

Birdsfoot trefoil has about 200 varieties that are distributed throughout the world. In U.S. and Canada, about 25 varieties are available for cultivation. Based on growth habit, there are two types of birdsfoot trefoil – Empire and European. Both Empire and European are referred to as “broadleaf” trefoils.

Empire-type birdsfoot trefoils are better adapted for grazing. They have fine stems, prostrate growth and an indeterminate growth habit. Compared to European-type, they have slower growth during establishment and slower regrowth after harvest.

European-type birdsfoot trefoils are better adapted for hay production. They have erect growth, faster establishment and faster regrowth after harvest compared to Empire.

For example, Viking, a European-type trefoil, has traditionally been high yielding when produced for hay. Newer varieties of European include Fergus, Norcen and Tretana. They have similar production ability to Viking and persist better under extensive harvest management.

The Leo variety is more winter hardy compared to Empire-types and Viking.

Another relatively newer variety is Bruce. It has better spring growth, vigor and yield than Leo.

The Bruce variety has very good seedling vigor, good re-growth vigor after grazing, very good winter hardiness and better morphological characteristics, as compared to other varieties, and it has superior spring growth and can produce higher yield in the first cut compared to Leo.

In recent field trials conducted in Lingle and Torrington, Leo, Norcen and Bruce performed very well, exhibiting superior forage quality in southeast Wyoming’s environments.

In some years, yield and forage quality of birdsfoot trefoils were comparable to alfalfa, showing its potential to be used both for grazing and as a hay crop. Additionally, birdsfoot trefoils can be grazed without fear of bloat because of their non-bloating properties.

Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or

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