How to use red clover
Find out how to use red clover to benefit your system. See our tips on growing clover with companion grasses.
Growing red clover for silage and grazing
Red clover swards are usually grown for high-protein silage production, with aftermath grazing in the autumn. The development of more persistent varieties that are more tolerant of grazing is creating potential for red clover to be used in cattle rotational grazing systems.
Red clover is primarily grown in a mixed sward, but can also be grown as a monoculture. Italian, hybrid and perennial ryegrasses are possible companion grasses.
In arable rotations, a common option is to use cutting grasses, such as Italian or hybrid ryegrasses, which produce a high yield in the first two years, but should then be replaced.
Typically, for white and red clover, it takes about one year for the quoted levels of nitrogen to be fixed: up to 150 kg N/ha for white clover and up to 250 kg N/ha for red clover. Therefore, they can be difficult to justify in a short-term ley, so longer-term leys (up to 5 years) should be considered.
Advantages of growing red clover with a companion grass are:
- Reduced impact of poaching
- Improved nutritional balance, especially with grasses that have high-sugar (water-soluble carbohydrate) content
- Utilisation of fixed nitrogen by the grass
- Nitrogen loss can be reduced four-fold when red clover is grown with companion grasses compared with monoculture
Example mixture for 4–5-year ley for silage and autumn grazing
Intermediate heading perennial ryegrass (diploid and tetraploid)
20–24 kg/ha (8–10 kg/acre)
7.5 kg/ha (3 kg/acre)
Using red clover to produce high-quality silage and finishing lambs. Andy Crane, Devon
Andy farms 900 acres in an organic system, where he lambs 750 ewes and calves 90 suckler cows.
Lambs are finished extensively on red clover aftermaths and kale. Cattle are finished on red clover silage, wholecrop silage and crimped barley. Red clover silage is clamped and baled on the farm, with second and third cuts usually baled and fed to the in-lamb ewes.
In recent years, Andy has increased the area of red clover on the farm. This serves many purposes, including providing high-quality silage for growing cattle and in-lamb ewes and grazing for lambs. The red clover grows in a mixture with tetraploid ryegrasses.
Andy says, “We aim to produce a silage with metabolisable energy (ME) of 11+ MJ/kg dry matter (DM), with a crude protein content of 15–20%.
“Using red clover has reduced bought-in feed costs on the farm for both the sheep and beef enterprises. It has also increased growth rates for cattle and lambs, with lambs achieving liveweight gains of up to 250 g/day. We continue to graze the clover through December because our land has good drainage and stocking densities are low – 60% of the lambs are sold by then, so poaching isn’t a problem. It is also an ideal forage to finish lambs on because the parasite risk is minimal.”
Recommendations for making red clover silage are to leave a stubble length of 7–8 cm and chop the crop. Andy added, “Cut when clover is in the late bud stage for high-protein content. Setting the mower to the right height is important so you don’t cut too low and damage the plant, which will shorten the longevity of the crop. Typically, the leys last for four years on our farm, producing two to three silage cuts per year. To maintain the protein quality, do not ted and wilt for a maximum of 48 hours.”
If you would like to order a hard copy of the Establishing and growing clover guide or the Recommended Grass and Clover Lists, please contact email@example.com or call 0247 799 0069.
The information in these web pages was sourced from Germinal, Grassland Development Centre (IBERS, University of Aberystwyth) and Charlie Morgan (GrassMaster Ltd).