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Tembien clover (Trifolium tembense)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Tembien clover, African clover [English]; trèfle africain [French]


Trifolium umbellulatum A. Rich.

Feed categories 

Tembien clover (Trifolium tembense Fres.) is one of the most common clovers found in the Ethiopian highlands. Tembien clover is an annual species. It is outstandingly tolerant of waterlogging.


Tembien clover is an annual legume (clover) that can have erect or spreading, glabrous stems. Stems at times root from the nodes. The leaves are trifoliate. Leaflets are elliptic or obovate, usually up to 20 x 10 mm, narrowed at the base, borne on petioles usually up to 5 cm in length. The inflorescences are usually globose, with 3-16 flowers and up to 23 mm across. They are purple or occasionally white in colour. The fruits are glabrous, 5-8 mm long dehiscent pods that contain 4-6 seeds. Tembien clover seeds are oval, brown and usually 1.5 x 1 mm (Cook et al., 2005).


Tembien clover is one of the highest yielding clovers of Ethiopia. It is grazed in native pastures, and used for pasture improvement at high altitudes and in seasonally waterlogged areas (Ecocrop, 2016).


Tembien clover is native to frost free highlands in eastern and southern Central Africa. It is found in tropical East Africa, including DR Congo and Ethiopia, at altitudes between 1400 m and 3200 m, in wet situations, often in shallow water (Ecocrop, 2016). Tembien clover grows in places where annual rainfall ranges from 700-2000 mm/year and where temperatures are relatively cool. Ground temperatures below 7°C during the growing season impair its growth, and forage production may be low above an altitude of 2800 m (Cook et al., 2005). Tembien clover does well on infertile soils, from heavy clay vertisols and nitosols to loams and sandy loams with a pH between 4 and 8. It is the most wetland tolerant of all the indigenous Ethiopian clover species (Ecocrop, 2016).

Forage management 


Tembien clover can be sown with other annual clovers (Trifolium steudneri, T. rueppellianum, T. decorum, T. semipilosum, T. usambarense), or short-growing grasses such as Pennisetum clandestinum, P. Schimperi, Cynodon dactylon. It has been sown in association with wheat without hindering wheat yields (grain and straw). It can form extensive colonies, pure or mixed with creeping species of Pennisetum (Cook et al., 2005).


Trifolium tembense propagates through seeds. The seeds are hard-coated and require scarification before being planted in a well-prepared, fine and firm seedbed. They should be lightly covered and rolled. Germination takes place after 5-7 days, and seedlings appear within 2 weeks (Cook et al., 2005). Like other African clovers, tembien clover has specific rhizobium requirements: it grows readily in its native range but should be inoculated if intended for places outside this area (Kahurananga et al., 1984). Tembien clover establishes quickly with vigorous seedlings that outcompete weeds (Britten, 1962). It was reported to be a potential early season pasture legume in Hawaii (Britten, 1962). After seed setting, tembien clover dies but the seeds may be dispersed by water and small animals. They thus provide substantial seed reserves that can be found in the top 5 cm of the soil, allowing pastures to reseed every year (Cook et al., 2005).


Tembien clover can yield 2-4.8 (-6) t DM/ha (Ecocrop, 2016; Akundabweni, 1985). In the Ethiopian Highlands, the highest DM yield was obtained 120 days after sowing. Later, DM yield dropped, probably due to a loss of leaves. Tembien clover can benefit from a long growing season when sown during the short rains in March. Yields were subsequently enhanced by 75 to 640% (Akundabweni, 1985). Tembien clover responded positively to P fertilizer (Cook et al., 2005).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Like other clovers, tembien clover can have a reasonably high protein content (average 20% of DM) but with a very wide variability (8-30%). Reported ADF values are rather high (over 40%) but this needs to be confirmed by further analysis.

Potential constraints 


As with many other clovers, tembien clover should not be fed as a sole diet as it may cause bloat (Cook et al., 2005).


In ruminant diets, tembien clover is a valuable source of protein that can be used as a supplement in poor quality crop residue based diets. As stated above, tembien clover forage should not be fed alone to cattle or horses as it may cause bloat (Cook et al., 2005).

Mixed stands of wheat and tembien clover increased fodder yield and fodder quality, suggesting that high quality crop residues could be prepared by Ethiopian farmers in mixed farming systems. The mixture of wheat straw and clover increased protein content and in vitro OM digestibility, and reduced NDF content compared with the pure stand of wheat (Tekalign Mamo et al., 1993).


Tembien clover is well eaten by livestock but usually not before flowering (Dougall, 1962). 

Growing cattle

In Ethiopia, tembien clover hay offered to heifers fed on crop residues (wheat straw or tef straw), supplemented with niger cake, increased the intake of rations based on wheat straw, but had no effect on the intake of tef straw-based diets. Feeding tembien clover hay increased daily weight gains and it was concluded that tembien clover could be used as a valuable protein source for growing cattle. No effect on ovarian function was observed (Olayiwole et al., 1986).


In Ethiopia, in sheep fed maize stover, oat straw, wheat straw and tef straw supplemented with tembien clover hay at 50% (DM basis), tembien clover hay increased DM intake in all cases, but the increase was higher with tef and oat straw. DM, crude protein, and energy digestibilities were also higher and N retention was increased in all cases. The highest increases of N retention were obtained when tembien clover hay was added to maize stover or oat straw. These results suggested that tembien clover hay has potential to increase the feed value of crop residues in smallholders farms (Mosi et al., 1985b). Tembien clover hay fed as a supplement to sheep resulted in a positive N balance, which was not possible on tef straw alone (Mosi et al., 1985a).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Crude protein % DM 19.9 8.4 8.3 34.1 60  
Crude fibre % DM 17.8       1  
NDF % DM 47.8 5.8 36.7 58.1 34  
ADF % DM 42.7 6.3 33.4 54.1 22  
Lignin % DM 6.8 1.7 4.5 9.9 17  
Ether extract % DM 2.6       1  
Ash % DM 8.9 1.5 6.3 12.5 49  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.3         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 7.4 5.4 2.5 13.2 3  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.1 0.8 2.4 4.0 3  
Potassium g/kg DM 28.5   27.3 29.7 2  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.6   2.4 2.7 2  
Manganese mg/kg DM 138   101 175 2  
Zinc mg/kg DM 65   57 73 2  
Copper mg/kg DM 17   17 18 2  
Iron mg/kg DM 1410   700 2119 2  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 77.5         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 74.1         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 13.6         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.9         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


CGIAR, 2009; Dougall, 1962

Last updated on 25/09/2016 10:37:39

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., 2017. Tembien clover (Trifolium tembense). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://feedipedia.org/node/660 Last updated on March 7, 2017, 10:54

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant)
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