2022 has seen a major focus placed on incorporating clover into grass swards on Irish farms in order to reduce chemical fertiliser use.

But as many farms moved into the autumn months they experienced the downside of using legume plants in swards: Bloat.

The backend of the year is a high-risk period for bloat, as the clover content in swards increases during the autumn months.

The positive of this is that increased content in the sward means that the work done by farmers to get clover in swards has paid off.

Teething problems

As already stated, the presence of clover in grass swards does pose a challenge and for some farmers it has resulted in the loss of cows.

Attending events at the tail end of the year, a number of farmers have expressed the frustration at the lack of warning or advice given regarding the management of clover swards.

Bloat, if caught early enough, can be treated and cows can make a full recovery, but too often it is not spotted, which unfortunately often results in the loss of a cow.

The issue we now have is that without clover, it will be almost impossible for farmers to meet the chemical fertiliser reduction targets they have been set.

If farmers choose not to use clover it is likely that herbage production on their farm will be greatly reduced going forward and/or production costs will be significantly higher.

Like what has happened many times before, farmers need to adapt their management practices when clover is in the swards.

It will take some time to fully understand how the plant will work in swards.


Preventing cows from gorging on clover is going to be one of the key ways of preventing bloat in dairy cows.

If you are grazing a paddock for 36 hours, when the cows leave the paddock for the last time, they may be somewhat hungry.

So, when they are entering a new paddock, a milking break should be set-up. This is a section of the paddock that the cows have for about two-hours only – which should prevent gorging.

Many swards in the tail end of 2022 also had very little fibre content, so offering some fibre to cows should help.


As we move into 2023 it is likely that many farmers have begun planning for further incorporation of clover into swards on farms.

So, the clover content on farms is only going to increase, and with this the risk of bloat is also likely to increase.

This means that better management of cows is going to be needed when entering certain paddocks on-farm and particularly in the autumn.