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!

When to harvest your seeds?

Lucerne trees flower throughout winter and by spring will form seed pods, first pale green and then turning brown. As they mature, seed pods dry and turn dark brown on the trees. Several clients have asked when these seed pods are ready to harvest. We normally harvest in mid-summer, in November and December here in South Africa.

To test when the seeds are ready to harvest, twist the dark brown pods to feel if they are dry and if they easily crack or pop open. If the pods are still green, the pods will not crack open. Also, the seeds will be small and flat and the seed germ on each seed will still be light green and the seeds will remain attached to the pod. Wait a little longer. It is best if the seeds dry and mature on the tree. In a few weeks, test again to see if the pods crack open when you twist them. Usually, when they are ready, you will hear the pods popping on the trees as they dry out.

To hand harvest, pick the dry pods off the trees and store them in a feed bag. Use containers such as feed bags, fabric bags, baskets or open buckets to prevent mould from developing. Keep your seed pods in a cool, dark place and allow them to dry completely.

Because we have so many trees to harvest, we prune the longer branches with all their brown pods and bring them and lay the branches on a tarp in a dry storeroom so that we can catch all the seeds as the pods pop and release their seeds.

When you want to remove the seeds from the pods, place them in the sun and most of the seed pods will pop open naturally. We also give the pods a few knocks which usually cracks them open. We normally do this while the seed pods are in feed bags or on a tarp. Then sift the seeds. We shake them through an open-weave shade cloth or winnow the seed pod mix in front of an industrial fan.

Always store your seeds sealed in bags or bottles and kept in a dry, cool, dark place. Dry, mature seeds will store perfectly for a year or more if stored properly. Your lucerne trees will provide huge seed harvests!

Just note — Some lucerne trees put everything into their seed production and we have found some perfectly healthy mature trees die after prolific seed production. It is important to prune flowering trees to prevent these losses. We select some trees for seed production and prune the rest to prevent an overproduction and tree losses.

You can order seeds and trees on our Orders page.

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.

Chipping Lucerne Trees YouTube Video

Lucerne trees are evergreen and provide wonderful, nutritious feed year-round. In our latest Lucerne Tree Farm YouTube video, Myles demonstrates how he uses chipped lucerne tree branches and mixes the chipped green material with hammer-milled wheat straw, molasses and salt to form exceptional, nutritious feed for our livestock.

It is March, and we are in our dry season and our summer grazing has dried up in the late summer heat. We especially use chipped lucerne trees during droughts and when summer or winter grazing is finished. However, Myles regularly prunes his many camps of mature lucerne trees and chip these cuttings for excellent cattle and sheep feed. Cutting and pruning these branches for chipping forms part of our lucerne tree management as these trees love to be grazed and pruned, and they bounce back with vigorous leaf and branch growth within 50 days and develop dense foliage, creating even more food. Because the lucerne tree is evergreen, it provides nutritious green feed year-round. You can read about pruning here.

We use Tandem 13.5 HP Chipper or Titon Pro 14 HP petrol mulcher, but any domestic petrol chipper will do as lucerne tree wood is soft when freshly cut. Freshly chipped lucerne tree cutting smells like candy floss and is full of sugar! If sealed while wet, it will easily ferment and can provide kuilvoer.

Here’s our supplementary feed mix recipe:

  • 10% crushed mealies
  • 10% molasses
  • 5% feed lime
  • 5% coarse salt

You can read all about chipping here.

We still have lucerne trees in individual potting bags, right on size to plant straight out into your lands. Please pop over to our Orders page to place an order with us.

Happy Farming!

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!

Prune trees when stressed

Lucerne trees love to be pruned and pruning is a vital management strategy!  Notice the wonderful dense, green bushy trees already pruned on the left, while the trees on the right are waiting to be pruned.

2-20140809_161544 compare pruned unprunedWhen lucerne trees are pruned, they burst into hundreds of new leaves all along the stems and branches.  This forces the sapling to develop side branches and new leaves all along their stems and branches which creates a lovely full, bushy tree.  If you look closely at the photo below, you will notice that several new branches have formed around the very short pruned stub of an old branch.  By pruning one branch, this tree now will have 5 to 6 new branches!P1120586If left un-pruned, lucerne trees remain thin and spindly, growing into tall, but lanky trees with very little food available for grazing.  Their branches tear and break easily when grazed.  A pruned tree develops thick, sturdy stems and branches which do not break as the animals browse the leaves off the branches.

Prune your trees while their are still in their potting bags growing out to become 40cm tall.  Simply nip the top growth tips off each sapling with your finger nails or use a hedge clipper for quicker pruning.  Within a week or two, you will notice tiny leaves budding and forming all along their stems.  These little saplings in their bags as seen in the photo below are ready for a light tip-pruning.P1150189Once transplanted, give your trees a few weeks to settle in and become established and then nip off all their growth tips and water well.  

If your trees undergo any kind of stress, you may notice that their leaves may turn yellow and  they may loose some of their leaves.  Prune them quite well, taking off up to a third of the top of the tree and then rectify what might be causing the stress. This tree in the photo below was pruned just 30 days before!2-20140809_171204 18month 30 days after pruning

Stress usually this has something to do with their roots or a water problem.  Remember that lucerne trees hate to sit in wet, soggy soil, so don’t over-water!  Likewise, drought will cause stress, so water your young trees regularly.

Stress may be caused by a lack of phosphates which works together with the rhizobia in the roots to fix nitrogen. A lack of phosphates may delay the trees’ roots from forming the nitrogen-fixing nodules which help the trees to become vital and healthy.  Add half a cup of super phosphates mixed in the soil around the base of the stem and water regularly. 

Insects could also cause damage and stress,  Look for signs of snails, beetles or worms that may be nibbling your trees and deal with them as necessary. Mice may also cause stress and ring-bark at the base of the stems,  This will usually cause the tree to die if they have eaten all the way around the bark.  Place old irrigation pipes around your saplings if this is happening, and cut away and clear any long grasses and weeds around each tree where mice may find shelter.

1-20140809_171916 trees micros

By pruning off spindly, weak or failing branches, your trees have a far better chance of making a good recovery.  Instead of pushing all their energy into stressed areas of the trees, they consolidate all their nutrition, food, water and energy into the main part of the tree, causing health and recovery.

To force your trees to create more foliage you automatically create more food.  Pruning is a valuable resource as all the cuttings go into our chipper and yield amazing bulk, fibre and nutrition in the chipped food.  Remember that your trees should be maintained at about 1 metre to 1.5 metre height so that your animals can graze everything at their height.

A healthy lucerne tree can’t help itself — it loves being pruned and will always sprout and bud soon after pruning. 

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.

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!

Updated Pages

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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!

Benefits of pruning lucerne trees

2-20140809_161544 compare pruned unpruned
Pruned 16-month-old trees on the left compared to un-pruned trees on the right

Every time you prune your trees, you increase your trees carrying capacity.

Lucerne trees must not be grazed within their first 2 years, because the animals tear the branches and stunt the growth of these young trees.  The aim is to have a mature tree having a thick stem of about 280mm, but being no more than 1 meter in height. The result is thick 50-75mm branches carrying very dense foliage.  These branches are never grazed or damaged while the foliage is eaten off them.

Pruned 16-month-old trees
Pruned 16-month-old trees

Whenever you prune your trees, the roots prune themselves, fixing nitrogen in your soils.

Every pruning should give you up to 40kg of plant material off a 3-year-old tree.  In the case where you have established 2000 trees in a hectare, this will amount to 80 tonnes of silage!

Pruning is the most beneficial practice for the lucerne tree and it is an essential component of lucerne tree management.

Do NOT neglect to prune your trees!