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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Lexington, Kentucky » Forage-animal Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #336867

Title: The hidden benefits of red clover

item Aiken, Glen
item Flythe, Michael

Submitted to: Proceedings of Forage and Grassland Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/8/2016
Publication Date: 11/8/2016
Citation: Aiken, G.E., Flythe, M.D. 2016. The hidden benefits of red clover. Proceedings of Forage and Grassland Conference. Pg. 7.

Interpretive Summary: Regulations on food animal production are changing in response to the use of antibiotic or synthetic growth promoters. In past decades, the growth promoters were antibiotic or synthetic chemicals; however, we are now finding that natural plant compounds can be used to decrease feed-to-gain ratios in ruminants. Even more interesting, these compounds can come from forage plants. Results of experiments have been published that reported an antimicrobial growth promoter in red clover. The compound, called biochanin A, belongs to a family of chemicals called isoflavones that are found in many legumes, but biochanin A is the primary isoflavone produced by red clover. Biochanin A passed laboratory tests in decreasing ammonia production from valuable amino acids and protein. A subsequent grazing experiment with a mixture of cool-season grazing determined that addition of biochanin A to dried distillers’ grains increased the average daily weight gain of steers. Further, another experiment with goats indicated that biochanin A can mitigate the reduction in blood flow caused by consumption of ergot alkaloids that induce constriction of blood flow to peripheral tissues and internal organs. Red clover has long been an important pasture legume and high-protein diet component, and the effects of biochanin A might explain the production benefits that go beyond protein content.

Technical Abstract: A paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Missouri Forage and Grassland Conference on the benefits of biochanin A, an isoflavone produced by red clover, on animal performance and well-being. A selective antimicrobial can kill the hyper-ammonia producing bacteria without harming fiber-digesting bacteria and other beneficial microorganisms. When hyper-ammonia bacteria are inhibited, more protein is available to the animal. Laboratory experiments found reduced degradation of amino acids and protein and, therefore, less ammonia byproduct from the degradation. A grazing experiment with a mixture of cool-season perennial grasses compared daily weight gain of steers supplemented daily with dried distillers’ grazing, with and without biochanin A, or a no supplement control. Average daily gain (ADG) over two seasons was 1.59 lb/steer/day for the pasture-only treatment and 1.83 and 2.05 lb/steer/day for the DDG and DDG plus biochanin A treatments, respectively. Results of a pen experiment with five rumen fistulated wether goats reported that biochanin A can relieve the ergot alkaloid-induced constriction of blood flow, which is a major cause of fescue toxicosis. Experimental results are indicating that biochanin A in red clover can increase the quality of protein available to cattle and also can mitigate the adverse effects of ergot alkaloids on blood flow.