So many times we read on social media how certain clovers test 37% protein. We hear people discuss the quality of forages like ladino clover. The reality is very few forages will test 37% crude protein for more than a couple days. There is a lack of information and solid data in the wildlife industry. I am in year 3 of having educational plots across the US. My main educational plot will have 3 sets of forage quality data collected this year. There are over 34 blocks of forages that are 10' wide by 100' long. The blocks that we will collect forage sample analysis from include, two varieties of ladino clover, alsike clover, 2 varieties of medium red clover, a new variety of perennial clover, and 2 varieties of alfalfa. There will be some fall strips of various brassicas that will be sampled as well. We will be sampling forbs, grains, soybeans and other unique forages.
With all that being said, so many do not understand how to connect the dots between seed and nutrition. The difference between some improved genetic clovers and common clovers is relatively small. The bigger difference is between soil health and soil fertility and how it affects forage nutrition.
Forage quality is affected by soil pH, soil health, macro and micro nutrient levels as well as overall plant health. Mother nature comes into play. If you have stressed forages, they will be lower in all nutrients. If you have insect pressures, your forage quality will suffer. If you have plant disease issues, quality will be affected. If you have excess moisture or drought conditions, that affects nutrient uptake into the forages. The end result is less than ideal forage quality. Everything in life requires balance.
If your low on soil pH, that will typically result in poor growth habits, poor macro nutrient uptake and plant stress conditions. Your overall plant calcium levels will mimic the soil calcium levels. If your low on pH (calcium) the forages will be lower on calcium. If your soil phosphorous, potassium, and sulfur levels are low, your forage tests will mimic those. If your pH is low, even if you put down required levels of phosphorous and potassium to match yield goals, you will see less than 50% utilization of those fertilizers that you put down. Again, the end result is low plant nutrient levels of those major nutrients.
If one is low in sulfur, and about 80% of the US is low, you will see stunted growth. You will see poor nitrogen conversion. You will see lower then ideal plant protein levels. This is why I discuss sulfur at every seminar I ever conduct. You might think your putting enough nitrogen down on those brassicas but they still might show deficiency. In the case of clovers and other legumes, even though they fixate their own nitrogen, you will see response on yield and plant protein levels if you include sulfur in your fertilizer program.
One other area people do not consider is matching the forages your planting to the CURRENT soil nutrient levels and your budget. You need 100 lbs of 0-0-60 per ton of growth on your perennials. If your yield goal is 2 ton of forage per acre, you need to use 200 lbs of 0-0-60 to maintain soil K current levels and another 100-200 lbs per acre during the current year to raise those nutrient levels to optimum levels. That will run $60 per acre to maintain balance and another $30-60 per acre to bring back potassium levels to optimum. If your soil is low on potassium, then consider a forage that mines less potassium from the soil.
So, is your goal to provide nutrition to deer or just fiber and a forage source. If you just want to plant something that deer may or may not eat, then it can be relatively cheap and with very little work. If you strive to do better and provide maximum nutrition in whatever deer eat in your plot, that is where science comes into play. That is where i spend most of my waking hours, consulting with people to teach them on how to maintain balance. It's hard to maintain balance and so easy to deplete our soils. Let's think to the future. Let's do better.