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Managing White Clover Levels in Pasture

30 May 2014

UK - By late spring the optimum level of white clover in pasture is 30 per cent of the dry matter. With the right management, it can then reach a target level of 50-60 per cent by midsummer, according to EBLEX advice.

The result of averaging more than 30 per cent of dry matter as white clover for the grazing season is that it can fix about 150kg of nitrogen per hectare a year, saving on bagged nitrogen requirements.

When relying on clover as a nitrogen source, it is important to assess it carefully, as it is easy to over-estimate the proportion in the sward. The general rule of thumb is to look down, estimate the proportion of clover leaf and then halve it.

Achieving target levels needs careful management once the grass starts growing rapidly. The key is to ensure light is able to reach the clover’s stolons to stimulate leaf production and this generally means keeping sward heights on target.

However, there are a number of other factors to consider for maintaining healthy white clover plants, including:

  • Ensuring the pH is between 6 and 6.5, phosphate is at index 2 and potash is at index 2-
  • Avoiding excessive stolon damage from poaching, which may have been a problem last winter
  • Choosing the right types of clovers when re-seeding – small-leaved for heavy sheep grazing, large-leaved for rotational cattle grazing and cutting. Medium-leaved clovers can cope with grazing and cutting, so are more multi-purpose. See the Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL) for more details
  • Allow the clover to go to seed every three to four years, so it can build up its root reserves

Clover can become dominant and when it’s more than 50 per cent of sward dry matter through most of the year, it can unbalance the sward and reduce total yield.

Where clover dominance is a concern, avoid late cuts of silage, as they reduce competition from grass and allow in light so clover can get away. Other options to control levels include grazing more intensively, especially with sheep, or strategic applications of nitrogen to stimulate grass growth and shade out clover.

Bloat can be a risk when grazing clover-rich pasture. Ensure that access is limited and livestock are not hungry when they are first introduced to pasture with clover. Provide fibre, such as hay or straw, before turnout and in the field. Check grazing stock at least once a day for signs of bloat and several times when they are first introduced. Take extra care on foggy or damp days.

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