Farmers across Ireland are embracing the use of clover in their grazing and silage fields as a means of enhancing biodiversity and reducing reliance on chemical fertilizers. One such farmer is Jimmy Madigan of Ballyhale, Co. Kilkenny, who has incorporated both red and white clover into a reseed on his farm for both silage and grazing purposes. What sets Jimmy’s reseed apart is that, contrary to current advice, he has successfully grazed the sward with red clover. After 10 grazings and a cut of silage, the red clover remains persistent in the sward on Jimmy’s farm.
According to current recommendations, white clover is typically incorporated into paddocks primarily used for grazing, while red clover is incorporated into fields primarily used for silage production. Jimmy’s farm is part of ABP Food Group’s Advantage Beef Programme and last year, it hosted the Irish Grassland Association’s beef event. In April of last year, Jimmy reseeded the paddock in question, following a process that involved burning off the existing vegetation, discing the soil, and sowing the new seeds using a one-pass system. At the time of sowing, the reseed received three bags of 13:6:20 (nitrogen:phosphorus:potassium) fertilizer. The table below outlines the specific mix Jimmy used for his reseed:
Variety | Type | kg/ac
White clover | 2kg
AberClaret Red Clover | 2kg
AberGain Perennial ryegrass (T) | 3.2kg
Ballintoy Perennial ryegrass (T) | 3kg
AberChoice Perennial ryegrass (D) | 2.7kg
Ballyvoy Perennial ryegrass (D) | 2.5kg
Jimmy explained, “I post-emergence sprayed it six weeks after sowing with Clovermax and the sward has been clean since then. The reseed fits into the normal rotation and was grazed every three weeks last year. The rotation was a bit longer at the end of the year. It was basically treated the same as the rest of the paddocks. I cut and graze it the very same way as a grass sward. The only thing I will say is red clover doesn’t like heavy machinery and the same rule would apply with poaching. It was cut once this year in mid-May and we got 8.5 bales/ac and all it got was cattle slurry and after cutting, I gave it a 50kg bag/ac of sulphate of potash.”
Another field on Jimmy’s farm was sown with the same mix in August 2022. The red clover is also thriving in this sward, which will be cut for silage. Jimmy commented, “It was grazed seven times last year and was grazed with store lambs over the winter. It was cut in May for silage and has been grazed twice more since then, so it’s been grazed about 10 times since it was sown.” He noted that there are no signs of the red clover diminishing in the sward; in fact, he believes it is becoming stronger. The cows are content on the clover, grazing it well without any issues of bloat. Jimmy added, “I don’t know how long the red clover will remain in the sward. Some say it will only last 3-4 years.” However, he knows of one farm that has had the same mix growing for seven seasons, so he is hopeful that his reseed will last the full 10 years. He plans to use the same mix to reseed his winter barley field.
Jimmy admitted that it was initially difficult to change his mindset and refrain from spreading chemical nitrogen on the fields designated for silage production. He said, “This spring I found it hard not to spread anything on it. I was tempted to go out with fertilizer because I was worried about it. It was a bit slow to start growing in the spring but the minute the soil temperature hit 8-9°, it took off. The nitrogen content in the slurry which was spread with a dribble bar helped it along also. I’m hoping these clover swards will cut costs and save on labor by not having to go round every paddock with fertilizer after grazing.”
The red clover silage cut from the field this year is currently being fed to bulls that have been housed for finishing as under-16-month bull beef. They are receiving 8kg/head/day of a high-energy 14% protein nut and silage ad-lib. With the high-protein red clover silage, Jimmy is considering reducing the protein content further in the concentrate feed.
Jimmy currently manages nearly 100 suckler cows between his spring- and autumn-calving herds and finishes all his beef progeny through the ABP Advantage Beef Programme. He runs his suckler system with remarkable efficiency and is optimistic about the future of the sector. He said, “What I’m doing, I’m very happy with. The quality store cattle are becoming increasingly scarce, while demand for quality suckler-bred cattle is growing. The biggest challenge in the suckler industry is carrying unproductive animals. There is no room for poor cows and poor breeding, and farmers must be diligent in culling non-performing cows.” Jimmy also purchases top-quality suckler-bred bulls for finishing, and he noted that their prices increase each year. He is considering expanding his suckler cow numbers by 15-20 head to reduce the need for additional purchased cattle for finishing. He concluded, “I have great confidence in the future of the suckler industry.”