(05/01/2018) WINNSBORO, La. — Clover-covered pastures benefits both cattle and pollinators like honeybees, according to LSU AgCenter experts who are encouraging cattle producers and beekeepers to work together.
“If beekeepers can find cattle ranchers with good forage area, who don’t mind having bees close, then it could be a good working relationship for both,” AgCenter entomologist Sebe Brown said.
Beekeepers want food sources for their honeybees, which flowering clover provides, while cattle producers want a good seed-set to ensure propagation for next year’s crop, which bees facilitate through pollination, Brown said.
AgCenter forage specialist Wink Alison said legumes, like clover, can improve animal performance because they are typically higher in protein and energy content than grasses.
Atmospheric nitrogen is fixed into a form useable by plants when legumes are present, providing both soil health benefits and cost savings for producers by reducing nitrogen fertilizer requirements, he said.
When pollinated by honeybees, clover will set seed more rapidly and effectively, benefiting the cattle producer who wants to provide nutrient-dense forage for winter livestock grazing, Brown said.
Because bees forage on clover, and clover honey is highly desirable, beekeepers benefit from productive honeybees, he said.
Brown and Alison recently offered recommendations for cattle producers and beekeepers at a pollinator field day held at the Ted Miller farm in Baskin, hosted by the Hill Country Beekeepers Association and the Louisiana Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative Coalition.
“White clover offers a longer blooming season, while crimson clover has a narrower but earlier window of bloom,” Alison said.
Crimson clover’s red bloom can be seen in the spring along roadsides and in pastures but will be gone in two to three weeks, Alison said. But white clover blooms profusely in midspring and will bloom into summer until weather becomes too hot and dry.
Bees like nutrient-dense clover for its nectar and pollen, Brown said, and clover imparts a good color and flavor that many consumers prefer.
Brown said bees can forage over a 2-mile radius, so placing hives as close to the bee yard as possible will prevent bees from having to fly as far, allowing them to forage more efficiently.
Providing a protective barrier, like a tree line or fence row, is also important to prevent hives from being disturbed by cattle or tractors, he said.
Hobbyists make up the majority of the over 750 registered beekeepers in the state, said Allen Fabre, apiary program coordinator with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
Beekeepers may keep from one or two hives to several thousand, Fabre said.
Most hobbyists begin by keeping a few hives in backyards or on their own land, Brown said, but as hive numbers increase, more forage area is required to prevent bees from starving, swarming or moving to another location.
Beekeepers often work with agricultural producers to increase food sources for their bees by placing hives near soybean and cotton fields.
The Louisiana Pollinator Cooperative Conservation Program encourages beekeepers, farmers, landowners and others to cultivate a strong level of communication and partnership.
Some beekeepers seek partnerships with cattle producers because pasture lands offer a lower risk for hive owners, Brown said.
“Row crop production is more intensely managed, and there is a higher risk of bees being exposed to pesticides,” he said.
Cattle producers looking to work with beekeepers can plant a clover crop that provides a flowering plant that offers good grazing potential for cattle, is easy for bees to forage and produces quality honey, Brown said.
LSU AgCenter Pub. 3478 outlines the cooperative standards adopted by the LPCCP and is available online at www.LSUAgCenter.com/publications/environment/bees.