Red clover is seeing a resurgence of popularity as a forage option due to its high protein content and performance in dry conditions. With its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil red clover also suits those looking to reduce their nitrogen inputs. It can provide a great option for grazing and silage. William Fleming, Germinal Area Sales Manager, provides his top tips for growing red clover.
Although red clover can be grown as a monoculture, most incorporate it into a mixture with perennial ryegrass. This combination ensures both the clover and grass reach the optimal stage to silage at the same time. As red clover can be slower to establish and grow, it is not recommended to mix it with fast growing Italian ryegrass (IRG) as this can result in the red clover being overwhelmed. IRG will also be at or past its best when the clover is ready to ensile, reducing grass quality.
Clover plants can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a plant-useable form and fix it in the soil. Nitrogen fertiliser is not needed for leys including red clover because if too much nitrogen is available in the soil, red clover will not fix its own.
Rotation is key
Leys which include red clover should always be part of a rotation to control stem eelworms and sclerotinia. These parasites and disease are always present in the soil, but as red clover is a host plant regular sowing can result in a substantial build-up. To prevent this, leave a six to seven-year rest period from red clover; the break allowing the population of these pests to reduce before introducing red clover again.
Much of the protein content of red clover is in the leaf so it’s important to prevent leaf damage during harvest in order to maintain the silage nutritional value. Avoid using a conditioner when you mow and try to be as gentle as possible as leaves can be brittle and shatter. Turning the crop when there is moisture on it, such as early morning dew, also helps prevent breakage.
Keeping the cutting height high is also important; aim for no lower than 7-10 cm to avoid taking out the crown of the plant. Once the crown is damaged, persistency is compromised severely.
Understand your silage
When feeding silage containing red clover, understanding the protein content helps ensure livestock receive the correct nutrition and allows the removal of other protein sources without affecting performance.
Due to the composition of the protein in red clover the only accurate way to gain a true picture of its protein content is through analysis with wet chemistry rather than NIR technology. The feed value is often much higher than suggested by NIR analysis so it is worth undertaking wet chemistry analysis to fully understand what you are feeding.
Drive livestock production
Leys containing red clover can provide a great option for those looking to finish lambs early. The mixture of energy from grass and protein from red clover drives production and helps fatten lambs well.
Taking two to three cuts from the ley for silage before putting lambs in to finish around August is a good option for a mixed farm. This enables lambs to finish strongly and early and helps them go to market earlier when prices are higher. But don’t turn out lambs intended for breeding or breeding ewes onto leys with red clover as it can have a negative effect on fertility.
Germinal offers AberClaret, the first generation of a long-lasting red clover persisting for up to 4-5 years. It is available in Aber Red 5 HSG which brings the benefits of red clover with performance maintained for its extended lifespan. It is also available in the Aber HSG2 range on request.
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