• Nutritive value of forage legumes used for grazing and silage

      Dewhurst, Richard J.; Delaby, Luc; Moloney, Aidan P; Boland, T. M.; Lewis, Eva (Teagasc, Oak Park, Carlow, Ireland, 2009)
      Legume forages have an important position in ruminant production in Western Europe and with further development can play an even larger role. Red clover for silage and white clover in grazed swards lead to enhanced growth rate and milk yield in comparison with pure grasses. Much of the production benefit of these legumes relates to enhanced intake since digestibilities are not markedly different to grasses. The higher intake of legume silages reflects differences in the cell structure of legume plants which combined with high fermentation rates means that they break down into small particles in the rumen, and leave the rumen more rapidly than perennial ryegrass. Ease of ingestion leads to high rates of intake, which explains higher intakes for grazed legumes. A further benefit of legumes is the reduced rate of decline in digestibility with advancing maturity. Whilst legumes have limited effects on gross milk composition or carcass characteristics, there are marked increases in levels of beneficial n−3 PUFA. Legumes have often led to a reduction in methane production from the rumen and again, this relates to both physical and chemical differences between forage species. The high rates of release of soluble protein and of breakdown to small particles from clovers and lucerne is associated with susceptibility to bloat, which is a limitation to further exploitation in grazing systems. The high concentration of rapidly degraded protein in legumes also leads to inefficient utilisation of dietary N and increased urinary N output. Research with tanniniferous forages, such as birdsfoot trefoil and sulla, demonstrates the potential for future legumes with reduced environmental and health effects, though these particular forage legumes are not well adapted to temperate regions of Western Europe that are the focus of this review.