24 May 2022

Using white clover to increase grass production and quality - advice from Teagasc

Kilkenny Kilkenny Kilkenny

White clover has many advantages

The inclusion of white clover in reseeding programmes is a requirement under the new derogation rules.

From 2020, a minimum of 1.5 kg/ha naked clover seed i.e. un-pelleted clover seed, is required for all new grass reseeds. Either white (grazing) or red (cutting) or mixture of clovers can be used. Over sowing of grass seed mixtures with clover post weed control will be permitted.

Why Use White Clover?
White Clover will increase grass production and quality. It improves animal performance - 13% increase in animal carcass weight & 25% increase in lamb live weight gain.
It saves €50/acre on Nitrogen fertiliser (save 110 units N/acre, CAN @ €250/t) and gives a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

Where to sow white clover?
High fertility soils (soil pH>6.3, >Index 3 for P and K)
In fields where with high ryegrass content and where weeds are well controlled
Drier fields on farm; don’t sow on gley or peat soils

How to sow white clover?
Sow between late April to mid-July and choose varieties from recommended list here:
Sow small/medium leaf clover for sheep as their grazing pattern can remove the medium leaf clovers
Sow medium leaf clover for cattle
Choose fields with a high perennial ryegrass content
Always roll after sowing to ensure good seed contact with the soil
Do not bury the seed
Clover can be included in the grass seed mix
Ensure you have a fine, firm seed bed
Don’t sow too deep, 10 -12mm
Sowing rate of 1 to 2 kg/ac
Ensure good contact with soil by rolling
Just after cutting or grazing paddock tightly, <4cm

Best time is to over-sow in spring or early summer to ensure adequate soil moisture for clover establishment
Mix 2 kg of clover with 1 bag of 0-7-30 or 0-10-20 per acre in the field, the clover seed is so small if you travel any distance with it in the fertiliser spreader or slug pellet applicator it will separate out
Reduce chemical fertiliser to give the clover time to establish and not be over shadowed by grass
Spread in two opposite directions, across the field then up and down to get an even spread of seed – avoid windy days when broadcasting
Ensure to roll to get good seed contact with the soil

Graze as soon as grass gets to 7-9cm (1,200-1,400 Kg DM/ha) to keep light down to the little plants, keep grazing regularly.
Stitch in
Seeding rate of 2 kg of clover seed
Follow the same management as above
Don’t bury the seed too deep, 10-12mm at most and remember to roll.

How to manage white clover?
You need to understand the growth pattern of clover to be able to manage it effectively. The diagram below shows the interaction between grass and clover growth.
Grass starts to grow at soil temperatures of 5ºC while clover needs soil temperatures closer to 9ºC, therefore grass dominates in spring and needs to be fertilised.

When soil temperatures increase, the clover starts to grow and its nodules begin to release fixed nitrogen therefore there is less of a requirement for nitrogen, so it can be fertiliser application can reduced or stopped from May onwards.
Graze paddocks at 7-9 cm (1,200-1,400 Kg DM/ha) and graze down tight to 4 cm. Clover grows and spreads using stolons that stay on top of the ground, it is essential light gets to these stolons to promote growth so grazing needs to be tight and often. The stolon mass determines the clover content of swards.

Avoid over grazing and winter damage.
Avoid heavy silage cuts.
Be careful when spraying only use clover-safe herbicides.
Beware of bloat
Keep post-grazing sward height to 4 cm
Avoid switching from grass-only swards to mixed grass/clover swards. Avoid letting in excessively hungry animals
Check stock regularly during the first three hours after entering a paddock
Can be prevalent after high rainfall and if clover content >50%
Clover persists for 3-8 years (depending on management and soil fertility). Recommended to over sow every five years. Wilt for one to two days if making silage.
Clover grows at 9ºC, whereas grass grows at 5ºC soil temperature, match fertiliser applications to growth pattern.

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