‘White clover has huge potential, but spring grazing can be challenging’

White clover has the potential to reduce the Nitrogen used on Irish farms while also leading to increased animal performance, according to Teagasc’s Brian McCarthy.

Speaking at the Positive Farmers Conference in Co. Cork recently, the Teagasc Research Officer said that grass-clover swards are capable of producing 1.9t of dry matter per hectare more than grass-only swards.

He highlighted the recent results of Teagasc’s white clover study. The study also shows that the milk production from dairy cows is higher on grass-clover swards than grass-only swards.

“The big thing we are seeing is an increase in milk production results. There is about 748kg more milk produced per cow from grass-clover swards.

This increase in yield means that cows are producing almost 60kg more milk solids. If we take a base milk price of 29c/L, this will leave increased revenues of €245 per cow or €700/ha.

However, also speaking at the event, Teagasc’s Fergal Coughlan said that farmers must be aware that grass-clover swards require a higher level of management than grass-only swards.

“We have seen some fantastic results, but there is an issue of spring pasture availability. We had two contrasting feed budgets in the spring,” he said.

He said that the grass-only cows were turned out day and night once they had calved, but the grass-clover cows had to stay indoors at night for a period of six weeks.

When the economics of the grass-clover and grass-only cows were compared, the additional housing and feed costs worked out at an extra cost of €35 per cow from the grass-clover cows, he said.

It is fine to say get out and graze the paddocks early, but it was challenging. We used an awful lot of on/off grazing and accurate allocations were also important.

Some of the cows on the trial also suffered from bloat, he said, as bloat is weather and paddock dependent.

“Any paddocks with over 60% clover in the swards are our danger paddocks. We only graze these paddocks when it is dry.”

Bloat oil was used to reduce the risk of bloat during dry weather, he said.

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