Maximizing Forage Productivity and Soil Health in Eastern Canada

Project Title

Maximizing Use of Forage Legumes to Improve Cattle Productivity and Health and Promote Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration


Yousef A. Papadopoulos (AAFC Kentville)

John Duynisveld (Co-Investigator; AAFC Nappan), Kathleen Glover (Co-Investigator; AAFC Nappan), John Gilleard (University of Calgary), Linda Jewell (AAFC St. John), Julie Lajeunesse (AAFC Normandin), Marie-Noëlle Thivierge (AAFC Québec), Carole Lafrenière (Université du Québec), Abdelali Hannoufa (AAFC London), Justin Renaud (AAFC London), and Sherry Fillmore (AAFC Kentville)

Status Project Code
In progress. Results expected in March, 2028 FRG.09.21C


Forages provide high quality feed for cattle and also have environmental benefits but maintaining high quality legumes in pastures over the years becomes challenging. Rejuvenating pasture stands is costly and risky and not frequently done by producers. In a previous study this team found that frost seeding was able to increase legume content in a pasture in eastern Canada and that this could be improved by the species used, addition of sulfur-based fertilizer, or a seed coating with a growth promotant.


  • Develop a sustainable way to maintain the quality of native/tame grass swards without tilling
  • Evaluate forage species containing anthelmintic compounds for reducing nematode load in grazing cattle.
  • Continue work studying the long-term effects of grazing management on pasture/animal productivity and soil carbon essential for developing carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission models for Eastern Canada

What they will do

This project evaluates many different ways to help maintain pasture quality and longevity in Eastern Canada.  

First, this team is looking to develop a new seed coating for growth promotion of legume seedlings. Here researchers will evaluate a ferrous sulfate/hydrogen peroxide seed treatment.  The effects of different treatment solution rates for different amounts of time on alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil and red clover seeds will be studied. They will grow the treated seeds in a growth chamber where germination, root number and length, shoot and root dry matter will be evaluated. For alfalfa the best treatment will be further analyzed to determine which genes are involved in the growth stimulation and this information will be used to determine if similar genes are involved with birdsfoot trefoil and red clover.

Researchers will then evaluate a nitrogen and sulfur-based seed coating alone or in combination with a chitosan or a ferrous sulphate/hydrogen peroxide seed treatment using alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, red clover and Aberlasting clover.   The coated seed treatments along with seeds that are not coated (control treatment) will be frost seeded or fall seeded into an existing fescue grass stand at 5 locations (St. John’s, Nappan, Normandin, Quebec City and Université du Quebec). Legume germination rate, forage yield, and stand composition will be measured.

To determine if coating the seeds means you can use a lower seeding rate for frost seeding, they will use the same forages above and compare the best coated seed treatment from the previous study, to non-coated seed using four different seeding rates: 0.5, 1, 1.5 and 2 times the recommended seeding rate.    This experiment will be conducted at 3 sites (Nappan, Normandin, Quebec City) using tall fescue grass stands. Data will be collected on legume germination rate, forage yield, stand composition.

They will then evaluate different frost seeding frequencies. At all 5 sites they will frost seed the 4 above legumes at 1.5x recommended seeding rate one time, in two consecutive years, and in three consecutive years. The same forage parameters will be evaluated.

Researchers will then test using Berseem clover as a companion crop with alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil and Aberlasting clover during frost seeding. At all 5 sites they will use commercially coated and uncoated legume seeds for frost seeding. They will look at the effects on the legumes grown with and without the Berseem clover and take the same measures as above.

Researchers will then evaluate the ability of birdsfoot trefoil and chicory to reduce parasite load in cattle. Researchers will establish 3 different pastures: (80% alfalfa, 20% meadow fescue (control); 80% birdsfoot trefoil, 20% meadow fescue (condensed tannins); and 40% birdsfoot trefoil, 40% chicory, 20% meadow fescue (condensed tannins and sesquiterpene lactones). The following year cattle will be dewormed in April then 3 weeks later will be dosed weekly with parasites until grazing begins in late May. Cattle will be moved every week and fecal egg counts and number of parasites will be evaluated. Forage quality, composition, and bioactive profile will be evaluated.

In the final project they are going to look at extending work done in the last science cluster on using cattle to maintain the optimal legume levels in naturalized pastures and monitor the effects on carbon sequestration. Twelve paddocks of naturalized pasture will be overseeded with birdsfoot trefoil. Cattle will be moved at 3 stocking densities, 3x per day, every 4 days, or every 8 days. Forage quality, yield and pasture composition will be evaluated as well as animal performance and parasite load. They will also be monitoring plant root growth and soil carbon.


This project will help us better understand how to get legumes to establish in pastures but how to keep them there longer. It will also give us a better understanding of if legumes can be used to reduce parasite load in cattle. The role of pasture management in animal performance, pasture legume composition and soil carbon changes in Eastern Canada will be better understood