Pruning lucerne trees for cattle & sheep feed

In this Lucerne Tree Farm YouTube video, Myles describes how he prunes his mature lucerne trees for cattle and sheep feed.

Pruning lucerne trees for cattle and sheep feed

Most of these trees are about 6 years old and have been planted along fence lines and in rows in camps. Lucerne trees are exceptionally fast-growing, reaching 6m height in 4 to 6 years. Lucerne trees are highly nutritious, with similar nutrient values to normal alfalfa ground lucerne, but without the danger of bloat. You can read about lucerne trees on our website ~ Lucerne Tree Information

In this video you will see how much food one lucerne tree yields after just 15 minutes of aggressive pruning. Pruning always stimulates the lucerne tree to produce new, vigorous growth, develop thick, sturdy branches and trunk, as well as to maintain the trees shape. If farmers wish to have their animals graze directly off the lucerne trees, then they will need to prune their trees to 1.5m height regularly. These pruned branches are placed in a cattle feed “ring” where the cattle or sheep strip off all the leaves, leaving bare branches. (These dried branches make exceptional fire kindling.)

One mature lucerne tree yields about 50kg of fresh cuttings on each pruning which will feed about 8 cattle in a day. These pruned trees take between 3 to 5 months to recover their full growth, especially if irrigated or during the rain season, ready to be pruned again. Because lucerne trees are evergreen, they provide fresh, nutritious feed year-round. All our information on pruning is here ~ Prune Trees

Myles also mentions another fodder tree called Leucaena. This is also a legume tree with rather thin, spindly stems which can be browsed right down to the ground and will sprout out numerous branches again and again.

We supply hand-picked lucerne tree seeds in packs of 100’s or 1000’s shipped around the world (where international postal shipping Covid restrictions have reopened). We also courier young lucerne trees either in potting bags or in tube-packs (depending on our stocks available) to South African clients. Please pop over to our Orders page to fill in the contact form to place your order.

Happy Farming!

Prune your newly planted trees’ growth tips

Pruning stimulates lucerne trees to push out more branches and leaves. Once your young lucerne tree saplings reach about 30- 40cm tall in their bags, they are ready to plant out. Please remember that it is vital to wait until your saplings are on size before planting them out. If you plant them when they are too small and soft and delicious, they will disappear overnight as critters nibble on them.

First, give your newly planted trees about 2 weeks to settle and “take” and then cut off the growth tip of each tree. Simply snip off the top cluster of 3-5 leaves. Within a week you will notice the buds all along the stem at the leaf nodes emerge with new leaf clusters which will explode into multiple side branches.

Sheep grazing on 2-year-old trees

This quick and easy pruning early in the saplings’ growth will help develop bushy trees which will provide much more feed. Left unpruned, the saplings often remain single-stemmed, spindly trees. Usually these spindly trees will only form more branches after their first grazing and/ or pruning. But if you get in early and nip off the growth tips after planting them, your trees will develop a lovely bushy shape.

Also, wait for the first 18-months to 2 years before allowing your livestock to graze directly off your trees! Your trees will only develop woody stems and branches in their second year of growth, helping them withstand the pulling and tearing that direct grazing causes. Grazing them too soon will result in significant tearing and damage to the trees’ branches and stem. Management in these early years is vital, but thereafter, your trees will serve you and your livestock for many years!

Order your seeds and seedlings today and follow our tried-and-tested germination and planting instructions for best success.

Feeding Sheep Lucerne Tree Branches

In this short video filmed on the Lucerne Tree Farm in the Klein Karoo, Western Cape, South Africa, you can see our Dorper sheep eagerly graze the pruned lucerne tree branches thrown onto the ground in their current grazing camp. Within just a few minutes, they nibbled off and stripped the branches bare. (Note–Dried lucerne tree branches make an amazing fire starter or kindling!)

Lucerne trees provide year-round grazing as a living, ever-green, vertical haystack, with nutritious feed for cattle, sheep, goats and horses, game and other grazing animals. You can read all about the lucerne trees here.

For ease, animals normally graze directly off the trees, which we prune regularly to maintain them at a grazing height of about 1.5m tall. As fast-growing trees, we often have long branches we have to prune and these we use for feed.

Sheep grazing directly off Lucerne trees.

This method of feeding cut lucerne tree branches simply thrown on the ground to our sheep “kills 2 birds with one stone” in that we provide quick, efficient and easy feed as well as manage our lucerne tree-height in our lucerne tree camps.

Normally, to maximize the amount of feed we can obtain from each tree, we put our cut branches through our Tandem 13.5 HP chipper. Chipping provides the maximum yields from lucerne trees as the twigs and branches are very soft and palatable and add to the fiber in the grazing diet.

Our effective domestic-use Tandem 13.5 HP chipper

You can view all our posts on chipping on our website – Chipped Food

With Spring soon approaching, this is a good time to place an Order for seeds or seedlings. We have germinated seeds and will have seedlings that we can courier to you anywhere in South Africa in our tube-packaging. Contact us using the contact form on our Orders page for a quote or to place an order.

We trust that you and your loved ones remain safe and in good health. Happy Farming!

Some sensible truths

Drippers 3-20140809_171434We would like to share some honest truths here because the end-user is always looking for a life-line or miracle, especially in droughts and when starting new farming ventures and the tagasaste just can’t be that.  The lucerne tree definitely has its place in agriculture and it is just here where we need to be realistic and not idealistic.
Tagasaste cannot produce as much forage as alfalfa or erogrostas grasses, but its advantages are that it has green forage available year round. It is best established together with grasses and used as part of the grazing management and not seen as the grazing.  Everything in nature has its limits and it is during these periods that the farmer will need the other sources of feed to complete the feeding management programmes.
Farming with lucerne trees can be done either extensively or intensively. Their success mostly depends on the availability of irrigable water and the farmer’s management capabilities.
We have found that the most viable practice for ourselves is setting up dedicated camps and managing these in various ways.
  • Seasonal pruning and chipping of lucerne tree branches and leaves does requires labour, but these methods quadruples the amount of feeding material a tree can produce and encourages a feedlot environment where the farmer can collect a concentration of valuable dung.
  • Alternately the animals can graze directly off the trees and then be removed so that the trees can fully recover.
Everything needs water to produce copious amounts of feed.  I do not encourage establishing trees without irrigation. The success rate is very poor, but once established, these trees can withstand incredibly harsh, dry conditions. but then also they do not produce maximum feed, but they yield smaller little leaves as does alfalfa when it is taking strain.
Spring always is the best time to germinate seed and a nursery is possibly the best way to supply a demand. Most folk manage to germinate their seeds, but the success rate among farmers growing them into healthy trees and then into a sustainable feeding programme is a bit too few and far between for tagasaste to become the next green revolution for agriculture.
Our experience and evidence points to farming with tagasaste as the sole food resource in large-scale, commercial farming economies to be unrealistic and largely unsuccessful.  It is most valuable for self-sufficiency homesteaders or for farmers who require additional good protein, green feed during calving or lambing.  It can be used as a supplementary feed, but the management of trees is not always justifiable when normal grazing grasses are available.  We therefore recommend farmers and homesteaders plant the lucerne tree on more marginal grounds, reserving best soils to establish their permanent and seasonal grass grazing camps.
Bearing these truths in mind, we offer this realistic advice with the hope that farmers continue to introduce and grow  lucerne trees in their farming practices and we are confident that they will be rewarded by the amazing amounts of exceptional food that they yield.

Video ~ Cows grazing lucerne trees

Here are our Black Angus cattle thoroughly enjoying their lucerne trees, with its nutritious food grazed directly off the trees.

Cow and calf enjoy lucerne trees

20160303_140203Our cows and calves have been grazing in our lucerne tree camps for several weeks are still enjoying good food!

Pruned trees bounce back!

20150504_140623We cannot over-emphasize the importance of pruning!

  • Prune your trees to promote

    bushy, dense foliage.  Side branches and more leaves will grow on off the main branches and stem.

  • Branches will become thicker and will not break easily if your animals graze directly off the trees.
  • Prune your trees to maintain optimal grazing height = 1m to 1.5m tall trees with loads of nutrient-dense leaves.
  • Animals will not be able to eat every leaf off a pruned tree.  Densely leafed trees will always have central leaves as their “solar panels” to provide food for the tree even after they have been grazed.  This will prevent grazed trees going into ‘shock’ and they will recover quicker.
  • Prune your young trees, even while in their potting bags to promote side buds.  Simply nip off the top growing tips of your 30cm sapling.  You do not want to grow a thin, tall, spindly tree.  You want to encourage bushy growth from the start.
  • Prune with sharp, clean shearers.  Cut your branches off with clean, slightly angled slice.
  • Of course you must use your clippingsFeed to your animals chipped, or on whole branches or simply slide your fingers down tougher branches, removing the leaves into feed troughs.  These clippings will also make excellent compost or mulch as they are packed with nitrogen!

Spring has sprung!  Order your seeds and trees now!

Fresh Green Chicken Food

Chickens love eating fresh lucerne tree leaves!    With 14% protein levels, lucerne tree cuttings provide outstanding food for ‘free’!

I simply prune a few branches off the trees that form an effective wind break around my chicken yard, and the chickens devour every. single. leaf!  (You’ll notice the bare branches from the previous day.)

A simple daily routine with wonderful results – healthy chickens, bright orange-yellow egg yolks and easy homesteading!

Grazing Directly Off Lucerne Trees

Grazing Directly Off Lucerne Trees

2-year Angus bull browsing directly off the lucerne trees.

Our pruned lucerne trees are sturdy and bushy – perfect for cattle to feed directly off the tree.


We have pruned our lucerne trees, chipping the cut branches and establishing good, sturdy, bush-like trees.  After more than 2 years, the grasses growing between the rows of trees are really prolific.  The trees’ nitrogen-fixing roots fertilize the soils and promote good grass growth.

This is great grazing year-round!

Updated Pages

We have updated our blog with new comprehensive information and excellent photos!

Pop over to check out these fresh pages ~

Spring is just around the bend!  It’s time to plan and prepare your new food-producing lands!

Happy Farming!