Cicer Milkvetch

Scientific name: 

Astragalus cicer L.

Agronomic Legume
Annual precip. min (mm): 
Annual precip. max (mm): 
Seed size: 
Seeds per kg: 
PR Suitability note: 
Cicer milkvetch is adapted to the Peace River region, but may not be widely used because it is hard to establish.
General Description: 

Cicer milkvetch is a palatable, non-bloating, perennial legume. The name comes from the belief that goat’s milk supply was increased from eating vetches. It does not accumulate toxic levels of selenium, unlike many of the other milkvetches or “loco weed.”

Deeply branched taproots and tough rhizomes develop from wide, winter-hardy crowns. Stems begin growing upright but soon fall or lodge. These hollow, succulent stems can be up to 120 cm (47 in.) long, growing to about half that in stand height. Compound leaves grow up to 15 cm (6 in.) long, and are made up of 13 to 27 hairy, paired leaflets.

Seed heads develop from buds on the stems, while leaves keep growing. There can be up to 40 pale yellow to white flowers attached to one stem. After cross-pollination, seed pods grow up to 15 mm (1/2 in.) long, turning black as they ripen. Each pod easily shatters to reveal up to 12 bright yellow to pale green seeds, which are hard and impervious to moisture.

Native to Europe and Russia, it was brought from Sweden to the United States, and from Russia to Canada.
May be adapted to several regions, but infrequent and mostly limited to areas in British Columbia, where it has historically been seeded.
Used mainly for pasture and stockpiling, or extending grazing season. It has been used for erosion control and soil stabilization.
Optimal time of grazing use: 
Cicer milkvetch grows slower than alfalfa in the spring. With adequate rest, can be grazed early summer to fall. Since it holds its quality very well, it can be stockpiled for fall or winter grazing with good expected weight gains. When stockpiled it can still provide a maintenance feed before growth begins in early spring.
Recovery after use (rating): 
Recovery after use: 
High recovery if not grazed to less than 10 cm (4 in.), and can be grazed frequently. Because of its rhizomes, it is tolerant to animal hoof action. Managed grazing improves the spread and fill of Cicer milkvetch in a stand. Cicer milkvetch should be allowed to set seed every 3 years to keep new plants in the stand.
Forage yield: 
Yields less than alfalfa, but non-bloating and retains quality. 1,700 kg/ha (1,517 lb/acre) Brown soil zone, 4,300 kg/ha (3,839 lb/acre) in Dark Brown soil zone, and 5,300 kg/ha (4,732 lb/acre) in Black and Grey soil zones.
Palatability/Nutritional Value: 
Crude protein values of 14.6% and digestibility of 61.5%. It has slightly higher protein levels and digestibility than alfalfa and red clover, but less than alsike and white clover. Cicer milkvetch maintains leaves and therefore quality late into the fall.
Longevity (rating): 
5 to 20 years.
Persistence (rating): 
Once established, Cicer milkvetch’s strong crowns and rhizomes give it excellent winter hardiness and stand persistence.
Invasiveness (rating): 
Competitiveness (rating): 
Competitive once established.
Erosion control (rating): 
Erosion control: 
Creeping roots are effective at controlling erosion.
Drought tolerance (rating): 
Drought tolerance: 
Cicer milkvetch has moderate drought tolerance and goes dormant during dry periods.
Winter hardiness (rating): 
Soil texture preference (rating): 
Soil texture preference: 
Adapted to all soil texture types but prefers well-drained soils. It can tolerate soils with high water table.
Flooding tolerance (rating): 
Flooding tolerance: 
Although Cicer milkvetch will tolerate saturated soils in the spring up to 1 week, it does not tolerate more than brief periods of flooding during growing season.
Salinity tolerance (rating): 
Acidity tolerance (rating): 
Acidity tolerance : 
Tolerates soil pHs as low as 6.0; but will also tolerate high pH, alkaline soils.
Fire tolerance (rating): 
Ease of establishment (rating): 
Ease of establishment: 
Many sources report that Cicer milkvetch is difficult to establish but newer varieties with increased seedling vigour have improved establishment characteristics. Cicer milkvetch can be established with the spread of seed by grazing animals. Delayed germination of seed may continue for up to 2 to 3 years.
Application requirements: 
Seed may need to be scarified before planting. Grow without a nurse crop for best establishment. Cicer milkvetch needs good seed-to-soil contact to germinate.
Suggested mixtures: 
Meadow bromegrass or bunchgrasses.
Management considerations: 
Allow adequate time for good establishment (i.e., up to 2 growing seasons) before using Cicer milkvetch. Let this species set seed every 3 years to promote the recruitment of new plants in the stand.