Red clover silage can help farmers reduce input costs

Wednesday 04.05.2022 , News

If you are looking for a cost-effective source of quality homegrown protein this year, red clover silage could be the answer.

Nitrogen fixation cuts input costs

Legumes, particularly clovers, help reduce the cost of inputs. Not only does clover’s high protein content lessen the amount of bought-in feed required but with fertiliser prices so high, its ability to fix nitrogen is another standout benefit.

Although red clover can be grown as a monoculture it is much more common to partner it with perennial ryegrass. It provides highly palatable grazing in a mixed sward and, with grazed grass the cheapest source of feed, integrating red clover helps you gain more from your grazing platform economically.

Superior feed value in red clover silage

Red clover silage is attracting the most attention from farmers this year though. Yields of 12-15 t DM/ha and a protein content of 16-20%, little of which is lost in the silo, give it a superior feed value that produces excellent animal performance.

Germinal’s Red Clover Intensive Silage is designed specifically to produce a high-quality three to four-cut silage, combining perennial ryegrass and red clover varieties.

We started using a red clover and grass mix to produce high-protein silage and achieve a consistent 1 kg/day growth rate in the cattle during the six-month housed period. We sowed our first red clover mix eight years ago and haven’t looked back; using homegrown feeds we avoid the volatility in the feed market.

“We start our reseed in spring, taking time to prepare the seedbed before ploughing in farmyard manure. Slurry is then applied after the first cut, normally at a rate of 2,000 gallons/acre but this can vary with weather and ground conditions. In autumn, we go back in again with farmyard manure.

“Once established our aim is to take four cuts of silage a year, with six weeks between each cut. Using this system, we see good yields of 13-15 t DM/ha, at around 18-19% protein, and we’re also able to keep the weeds at bay. We do find the amount of clover varies between each cut, with the highest levels normally occurring in our late summer cuts.”

Eugene Kirrane, Claremorris, Co. Mayo

Sow red clover seed in spring

Red clover seed is best sown now – in April or May – but can be planted until late July as part of a full reseed. Oversowing is not recommended. It likes well-drained, fertile soils, with a target a pH of 6.0-6.5 and index 3 for P & K.

After carrying out a soil test, spray off the old sward with glyphosate and apply lime if required to correct the pH and counteract surface acidity as the old sward decays.

Create a fine, firm seedbed to ensure good soil-to-seed contact and sow seeds no deeper than 10 mm to ensure a good rate of germination. A clover-safe weed spray is required approximately five to six weeks after establishment.

Depending on when red clover is sown, a light cut can be taken in its first year to increase the density of the sward and grazed lightly in the autumn.

Growing very differently from white clover, red clover is an upright plant with a strong deep taproot. As it grows from the crown above the ground, avoid grazing in wet weather when this part of the plant is more vulnerable to damage.

Take three to four silage cuts a year

Once red clover is established, the highest quality red clover silage is produced by cutting to a height of 7-8 cm at six to eight-week intervals from early May. This usually gives three or four cuts a year.

Avoid overhandling the cut crop as the leaves are prone to shatter and as red clover is low in dry matter (DM), wilt for up to 48 hours. Aim to put it in the clamp with a DM of 25-30%.

Expect at least four years persistency

In the past, red clover was not expected to remain in a sward more than two to three years, but new varieties, bred by Germinal Horizon, boast greater persistency.

These new red clovers, including AberClaret, last at least four years in a cutting sward and tolerate grazing more readily making them suitable for rotational grazing systems.

Tips for ongoing management

  • Maintaining soil at index 3 is important so continue applying adequate P and K as required, although applied nitrogen is unnecessary
  • Red clover is an excellent form of aftermath grazing for sheep with lamb growth rates particularly good from mixed red clover and ryegrass swards. To reduce the risk of bloat in cattle on red clover, avoid grazing with hungry stock or in wet conditions. Also, avoid grazing with breeding ewes and rams six weeks either side of breeding. The phytoestrogen is red clover may reduce conception rates
  • Allow a five-year break between red clover crops to reduce the risk of soil-borne clover rot/sclerotinia and stem eelworm. Both are capable of seriously impacting a red clover crop and can be spread between fields by infected plant material or machinery

To find out more about how red clover could benefit you this year, contact our team of forage specialists.