In this article, CAFRE adviser, Stephen Flanagan, explains what clover could deliver for beef and sheep farmers.
Fertiliser prices are at a record high, and one product, in particular, that is getting a deserved renewal of interest and has been about for generations is the humble clover plant.
CAFRE Beef and Sheep Business Development Groups (BDG) members have started to look at alternative systems and products to keep grass production at the optimum level to support current stocking rates.
The simple plant has a lot to offer the beef and sheep farmer:
- AFBI research has shown that under ideal conditions, it can fix up to around 150 kg of nitrogen per hectare (equivalent to almost 4.5 cwt of 27%N /acre) when there is at least 30% clover content. Under farm conditions, you may not always achieve this level, but it is free nitrogen nonetheless that you cannot ignore;
- Furthermore, it improves the soil structure as the root system of the white clover plant produces more gaps between soil particles which can enhance the movement of nutrient;
- It has the environmental benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions arising from the production and use of chemical fertiliser. Some may see its inclusion in the sward as a quick fix to the current fertiliser problem. However, the current price trend for chemical fertiliser looks likely to continue in the longer term as suppliers adjust away from now unavailable sources.
- Furthermore, it has a higher mineral content which is beneficial to livestock.
- Improved animal performance due to improved nutritional composition. Research has shown that lambs have the potential to grow 25 % faster on grass-clover swards and cattle 10 % better than on grass only swards. Palatability also improves with white clover in the sward leading to higher intakes.
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