Cows on clover return extra €160/ha
Clover trials at Teagasc's Clonakilty college have the potential to increase profit by €160 per cow, but carries with it increased risks of cow mortality due to bloat.
"We lost one cow out of 60 each year due to bloat during the two year trial, but we believe that with better management we can reduce that to zero on a long-term basis," said Clonakilty's farm manager, Fergal Coughlan.
Avoiding turning cows out hungry onto wet paddocks with very high clover contents is key to preventing deaths, when cows tended to gorge themselves on clover-rich swards for a prolonged period before consuming water.
Dosing the water system with bloat oil is the most effective way to prevent bloat, but it is important that the cows consume enough of this water to prevent the condition arising.
Despite the risks, farmers at the Positive Farmers conference in Cork expressed a keen interest in adopting the plant into their grazing systems.
While it has been ignored by many in recent times because of its lack of persistence in intensively farmed pastures, data showing that it can increase milk output by 784 litres and 58kg of milk solids per cow could lead to a turn around in the plant's fortunes.
"It increased drymatter production by 1.9t/ha, and this has been repeated over two seasons, so it is quite reliable now," claimed Dr Brian McCarthy, who jointly presented the findings with Mr Coughlan.
High levels of clover were present in the trial plots, at 20-70pc. However, the Teagasc researchers believe that 25pc is the ideal level to achieve.
However, managing the swards required excellent grazing management, and getting the clover established without a high level of weeds was challenging.
While the clover did not increase the amount of drymatter available for grazing in the first five months of the year, it consistently produced an additional 15kgDM/ha per day during June, July, August and September.
Both tetraploid and diploid varieties of grass were compared in the trial, but no noticeable difference in output was recorded. Apart from bloat, the researchers also found the more open nature of the clover pastures challenging to manage during the spring, especially in wet grazing conditions. As a result, a lot of on-off grazing was carried out.
There were also extra costs of €234/ha associated with the clover system in the trials, due to the cost of extra silage requirements in the early part of the year, along with bloat oil, cost of clover establishment and extra mortality.
However, even after these extra costs, the additional milk sales at 29c/l allowed the clover system to out-perform the grass-only plots by €160/cow, or €440/ha.
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