Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

Nationwide rollout for Teagasc clover trials

Clover has been abandoned by many farmers.
Clover has been abandoned by many farmers.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Clover trials are due to be rolled out on up to eight commercial dairy farms around the country over the coming months, as Teagasc look to replicate the increased profits generated by the plant on research farms over the last three years.

Grazing cows on swards with an average of 30pc clover content at Clonakilty increased sales after costs by €160 per cow.

Clover had been abandoned by many farmers because of its lack of persistence, but Teagasc researchers have shown that it can increase pasture output and cow intake, even in situations where up to 250kg/ha of nitrogen was being applied.

Separate experiments in Moorepark and Clonakilty have shown an increase in milk solids per cow of 40kg and 58kg, respectively, from cows grazing clover swards versus non-clover swards.

The increased milk solids and higher profit does come with larger management challenges, especially reduced spring grass availability and higher risk of bloat.

While clover does not over-winter as well as grass, resulting in an additional silage requirement in the spring, researchers believe the additional 1-2tDM/ha of growth during the rest of the year more than compensates for the slow start.


Dr Michael Egan, who has been working on the research in Moorepark, said that cow mortality from bloat was not an issue, averaging 1pc over the past four years.

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"You must use bloat oil in the water, but there's more to it than that," he said.

"Over the years we've realised that you can't keep switching cows from clover-rich swards to grass-rich swards, and you shouldn't turn out hungry cows into damp pasture with more than 50pc clover in it.

"There are simple ways to ensure this, such as using a break-fence to curtail the amount of clover available during the first two hours of grazing," he said.

Dr Egan made reference to the Greenfield farm in Kilkenny where clover inclusion levels were 15-20pc lower, resulting in zero incidences of bloat.

He believes that it is possible to convert an entire grazing platform over to clover within three years without increasing reseeding above 10pc per year.

"Obviously the area that you are reseeding should be planted with clover seed at 0.5-1kg, but it is also possible to stitch in clover into existing pasture at about 1-1.5kg/ac.

"Farmers can also exclude silage ground from clover reseeding because we have found that clover does not suit silage ground," he said.

Despite the requirement for better levels of soil fertility and management, the grass specialist believes that the 150kg/ha of nitrogen that a clover sward can fix from the atmosphere will produce not just an extra 1tDM/ha per year, but also herbage that is more palatable.

This will result in an extra 85-90kg/ha of milk solids.

In Clonakilty, where pastures had additional clover, researchers calculated that it added nearly 2tDM/ha to annual output.

The next stage in the verification process is to see if the same results in the Moorepark study can be repeated on commercial farms with a range of soil types and management systems, stated Dr Egan.

Adam Woods in the beef farm at Teagasc Grange said a water system to administer bloat was being installed with the possibility of clover trials.

Indo Farming