Can Cows Eat Clover – Poisonous or Beneficial

can cows eat clover

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Can cows eat clover is it a random question by livestock owners? The answer needs a brief knowledge about clover feeding and how it is a poisonous or beneficial feeding source for cows. Here is a complete guide about how you can feed clover with types and risks.

Clover, a short-lived herb, is found in subtropical and most temperate regions of the world (South East Asia and Australia). This cheap crop is cultivated as pasture and sometimes to stabilize the damaged soil.

Clover is edible but do cows eat clover? Is it okay for them to eat?  Sweet, white, and yellow clover can be a little dangerous to cows as can actually cause bloating. And bloating can’t be ignored.

Can Cows Eat Clover?

Yes, cows can eat clover but feed safe and mold-free clover. Cattle grazing on sweet clover, yellow clover, and white clover may develop metabolic disorders. Clover poisoning leads to bloat which may cause the death of an animal.

Sweet Clover and Yellow Sweet Clover

Sweet clover is a part of grasses, sedges, legumes, and Forbes on pasture or rangeland. It is a common forage legume containing Coumarin that causes trouble. 

Sweet clover is nontoxic on its own unless the plant gets damaged or spoiled. Coumarin is transformed into dicoumarol in the attendance of molds. The dicoumarol suppresses vitamin K production when the moldy sweet clover hay is consumed by the cattle.

Vitamin K is responsible for the synthesis of essential clotting proteins. Sweet clover poisoning may result in hemorrhages in tissues and severe blood loss after a minor injury or surgery.

How Much Dicoumarol is Enough?

A little is too much. Clover Hay containing 10 parts of dicoumarol per million must be fed with vigilance.


Symptoms depend upon the consumption, health, and age of the animal. For minimal consumption, symptoms may take months to appear. If the dicoumarol is consumed is a fairly large amount, symptoms are shown in less than a month.

Symptoms include stiffness, dull attitude, swelling, pale gums, palpable underneath the skin, and on the hips, brisket, and neck. Blood dripping from the nostrils or seen in feces and urine may also be due to this poisoning.

Poisoning prone cattle

Mature cows are less susceptible to Mouldy sweet clover poisoning than younger ones. Poisonous sweet clover consumed by the pregnant cow may result in miscarriage or premature birth of the calves.


Regular intravenous injections of K3 four times a day to restart the production of blood-clotting proteins.

Blood transfusion and calcium need to be added to their supportive care.

White Clover

Among the few threatening legumes that have the highest likelihood to root bloat is White Clover and Persian Clover. Farmers report heavy livestock losses as a result of pasture bloat.

What is Pasture Bloat?

Pasture Bloat is the digestive disorder of the cattle grazing on pasture containing greater than 50% of legume content. Pasture bloating happens when the rumen gets inflated with gas. High legume content hay produces a large amount of foam which causes difficulty for cattle to release gas.

The distended rumen with gas causes pressure on the diaphragm which is the leading cause of an animal’s death from asphyxia or shock.

The foilage of White Clover or Trifolium repens possess glycoside which reworks to prussic acid. Prussic acid is a fast-acting poison that inhibits the oxygen utilization of cells causing the animal’s death from asphyxia.


Pasture Bloat is a high-risk digestive disorder that causes cattle’s death within 3 to 4 hours after the symptoms appear if left untreated. Distention in the left abdomen is the most primary and obvious sign of pasture bloat.

Other symptoms include pain, bellowing, laboured breathing, trudging of feet, kicking at the belly, frequent urination and defecation, and sudden collapse. 


  • Passing a stomach tube is the best treatment to release gas. Anti-foaming agents must be given through the tube to disperse foam.
  • A small dose of Dimethicone or Polaxolene treats acute bloat saving animals from life-threatening conditions.

Red and Crimson Clover

Red clover and crimson clover are “moderately likely” to promote bloat. Unlike White Clover, the risk of bloat from red and crimson clover is minimal.

Red Clover contains substances named isoflavones. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens containing anti-estrogens that affect the breeding performance of the cattle.

Crimson Clover is associated with bloating because of high indigestible fiber. Other than pasture bloat, no other harmful effects of crimson clover are known.


The symptoms of red clover and crimson clover are the same as bloating. Though a moderate-risk plant, red and crimson clover are an imminent risk to cattle’s health. Distended left abdomen, difficult breathing, stomping, and kicking at the belly all add up to show signs of bloating.


  • Avoid grazing of high-risk legumes in higher risk periods.
  • Change animal feed with a high-risk diet.
  • Don’t let the cattle go grazing when hungry.
  • If the stomach tube doesn’t work, use ta trocar and cannula as a last resort.

Alsike Clover

The risk to get pasture bloat from an alsike clover is similar to the red clover. Besides bloating, Alsike Clover is involved in the photosensitization in coexistence with liver disease.

Photosensitization is the damage caused to skin by ultraviolet light. Accumulation of phylloerythrin in plasma is attributed to the cause of this disease.


Reddening, peeling, bleeding, clustering, and ulceration of skin are the major signs of photosensitization.


  • Removal of all clover hay from cattle’s diet.
  • Keep the horse indoor in a cool, shady place.
  • Treat the skin with a mild antiseptic solution to heal the lesions.
  • Treatment for liver disease.

Management in Feeding Clover to Cows

In the case of sweet clover, it contains coumarin which is converted into dicoumarol in the presence of molds. When cows consumed dicoumarol, it inhibits the activity of K ions. Vitamin K is very important for blood to clot. k inhibition can cause death.

This is the same mechanism as caused by Warfarin in rats, gophers and squirrels. Here are some ways for the management of feeding hay with clover.

Hay containing clover should thoroughly dry. Sweet clover has a large and thick stem that can take time to dry. Dense bales can make the problem of mold formation.

Feeding rotation is also a successful strategy. Like feed hay and sweet clover for 15 days and safe forage for the next 15 days. Rotate this again and again for the reduction of risk.

Sweet clover is an opportunistic plant that takes advantage of good growing conditions. If we use it with caution, it can be a beneficial feeding source.


Will Clover kill cows?

Yes, it can. Spoiled, fungal clover hay has the potential to kill livestock. Clover on its own is not harmful but the consumption of damaged clover during the high-risk time may have fatal consequences.

How does clover kill cattle?

It does so by obstructing the elimination of gas by producing foam. Some clover hay consumption stops the production of vitamin K.

Which Clover is low-risk?

Berseem clover or Trifolium alexandrinum is less likely to cause bloat.

Is Clover poisonous?

Clover is a nontoxic plant on their own unless they get infected with fungus or damaged.


There are potential risks involved in grazing cattle on legume pasture. The higher the legume content, the higher the threat. Spoiled clover in cattle hay may serve as a killer for the livestock. Pasture bloat, photosensitization, and suppressed production of vitamin K are its many weapons. They can be an excellent feed when fed with caution.

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