Livestock production: Save on feed costs with arrow leaf

This hardy legume can reduce farming costs when feed sells at a premium. 

Poor feeding strategies can result in heavy losses if feed has to be bought in at a time when costs are at a premium (eg late summer) or as a result of poor conception rates during the subsequent summer.

Farmers do, however, have the option of planting their own pastures – a process that needs careful, thorough planning.

Also read: How to establish forage crops and pastures


“The key to planting your own feed is to keep costs as low as possible. Affordable permanent pastures can be established by any farmer with minimum costs and tillage,” Boeks van Rooyen, a general farm manager.

Arrow leaf clover is a legume from Turkey. It is an annual crop that sprouts on its own and seeds easily.

Although it won’t yield a big output in very dry conditions, it will make seeds and survive. And it will be there again, at the next rainy season.

It grows well in cooler parts, such as South Africa’s Highveld and KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and does especially well at the foot of slopes, where a lot of moisture gathers in the winter and spring.

“Ground that is too wet for agronomy can be used by sowing arrow leaf clover on it. The crop does well on low-lying slopes,” says Van Rooyen.

Also read: Agronomy: Planting tips for wet soils

  • Once sown, arrow leaf clover is almost like a weed – you’ve got it for life.
  • It spreads and grows easily and can survive droughts.
  • The seed can easily be distributed by animals.
  • Van Rooyen says an advantage of the crop is that it is not so palatable that an animal will eat too much.
  • He has never experienced a hydrocyanic acid problem.
  • Large and small stock do equally well on the crop, since the protein content compares well to that of lucerne.
  • Arrow leaf clover treated and baled like lucerne, contains 18% protein.

Also read: Lucerne – top-quality feed for your animals

In a test, arrow leaf clover was cut into a 1 m square and weighed. It yielded 5 kg feed, which equals 50 tons/ha. In its green form, arrow leaf clover can be grazed, cut and fed in mangers or mixed with dry material in feed mixers.

Since realising that the crop grows and flourishes in natural grazing in some places, Van Rooyen adds the seed to his sheep and cattle licks.

In addition to its excellent qualities as a feeding crop, this legume has the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, without being inoculated with rhizobium.


  • Arrow leaf clover is hard-scaled – it is basically covered with a coat of varnish, which means it cannot be digested by animals.
  • The seed germinates very well after passing through the animal’s digestive system.
  • It doesn’t germinate in wet manure, but needs manure that has dried and then been drenched by rain.
  • It germinates from January to August.
  • Seed won’t die if it gets too much water.
  • During the rainy season, it can lie dormant for months and still germinate in July and August, when the water starts to dry up.
  • The crop is similar to lucerne, and January to April is time to sow.
  • Early autumn is the best time to establish the seed.
  • It stays green during winter and can already produce a good output in mid-winter.
  • It grows quickly in spring.
  • The seed can lie in the ground for a long time.
  • The sheath is probably worn away through the years by citric acid, which helps the seed to absorb moisture and germinate.
  • The crop is green and edible from April to January.
  • Top production is in November and December, and it forms seed in January.
  • When harvested, there are about a million seeds to the kilogram.
  • It doesn’t really grow in winter, but can grow up to 1 m in spring.
  • The plant tolerates very wet circumstances, such as in a swamp.
  • It is particularly suitable for natural grazing in early to midsummer or as commercially planted grazing for large and small stock.
  • It is probably less palatable than lucerne.
  • It can also be cut and used as hay.
  • Van Rooyen says he found that animals, game in particular, like arrow leaf clover.


The only disadvantage of the crop is that is grows poorly during dry periods. But it doesn’t disappear permanently and grows extremely well in good seasons when there is a wet winter and spring.


  • There is no visual distinction between good and bad quality seed.
  • Plant the right cultivar for the purpose.
  • Plant only seed that has been analysed by an accredited laboratory.
  • Plant only seed that complies with germination and purity standards.

Also read: Beat bloat and pasture toxicity

  • This article was written by Malixole Gwatyu and Chris Jooste and first appeared in Farming SA.

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