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Superior Feed Quality Achievable From Red Clover Silage

Red clover fits when there’s a high demand for protein and energy.

Traditionally considered most suited to an organic farming system, there is growing interest in red clover swards across all farm types, as farmers realise the potential of the crop from both a yield and protein perspective.

Dr. Mary McEvoy of Germinal, explains, “red clover silage is higher in protein than conventional silage and combined with its ability to yield over 14t DM/ha more and more farmers are looking to it as a means to provide high quality silage.” Red clover silage has a protein content of 16–20% compared to 12–14% from good quality conventional grass silage. Nitrogen (N) fixing and higher protein and energy values are all part of the attraction to growing red clover for silage and grazing.

Brian Nicholson farms a flock of 1200 ewes just outside Johnstown, County Kilkenny, over a diverse range of crop species, where he incorporates red clover into his system to supply a high energy, high protein silage.

The target for Brian when ensiling red clover is to achieve quality over bulk – much of the reason why Brian moved from sowing it with a hybrid, to now incorporating tetraploid grasses into the crop, namely AberGain. The energy from Brian’s crop needs to be able to support the body condition of ewes that are carrying twins, and in some cases triplets.

In Brian’s case, red clover silage is fed along with regular grass silage to ewes with a high demand for protein and energy but also to housed lambs that are currently within finishing stage.

Red clover silage has the ability to have a significant impact on concentrate feed bills, and in the case of the Nicholson’s farm, it means feeding as little as 0.4kgs of meal per day on a once a day basis, compared to the norm of 1kg per day, which would usually result in a split feeding regime.

Since the move from hybrids to using a good tetraploid grass, Brian finds he can better manage the crop, whilst still managing to get up to 3 cuts of silage with quality grazing throughout the year.

Red clover makes up 6 acres of the Nicholson’s farm and due to its Nitrogen fixing ability, no chemical N is required. With regular soil testing, P & K values are closely monitored, with the usual requirement post cutting corrected through the application of dung.

Red clover swards can yield over 15 bales per acre over 4 cuts, however the persistency of the sward can be an issue for some; newer varieties are lasting 4–5 years, compared to 3 years on older varieties, so it is worth paying attention to the varieties you are sowing.

AberClaret and AberChianti from the IBERS breeding programme in Aberystwyth, Wales, are among the first varieties to deliver increased persistency, making it much more attractive to many farmers now.

When it comes to cost–effective finishing of lambs, red clover silage is playing an increasingly important role as seen in the Nicholson’s case, however there are benefits to beef and dairy systems also.

Animals fed red clover silage over the winter period have growth rates of 1kg per day due to the high feed value, combined with the increased palatability of red clover over conventional grass silage.

Several studies have shown increased milk yield from dairy cows fed on red clover silage, compared to grass silage.

The benefits of red clover are hard to ignore, and as the crop is most suited to silage than grazing, for anyone targeting silage ground for reseeding next spring, it is definitely an option worth considering.

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