The case for white clover

Published 4 July 14

The case for white clover

Many farmers avoid using clover in their pasture mixtures. Some  appear to experience no benefit, suffer with bloat or have found cover inconsistent, others because it complicates weed control. Francis Dunn, from Field Options, makes his case for the inclusion of white clover in the sward.

The latter issue is strongly supported by some in the agrochemical industry. They often suggest that once key weeds have been 'controlled', clover can then be added at a later date. However, experience suggests that successfully adding clover at a later stage is difficult to do and few achieve impressive results. What are the clover avoiders missing out on?

The potential benefits are not always appreciated. The industry often prioritises the potential to produce 'free nitrogen', and this is a benefit, but difficult to measure. There are other benefits of clover, which are potentially of greater value.

A number of trials have shown extra milk yield during June to September, of one to two litres/head/day, for pasture with clover. This is likely caused by a number of factors:

  • DM intake is increased by about  10 %
  • 'D' value and protein of white clover is much higher than perennial ryegrass.

Typical range in grazing pasture: 

White clover               75-82%  'D' 27% Protein

Perennial Ryegrass    65-75%  'D' 17% Protein

  • The mineral profile of white clover differs from Perennial Ryegrass, with higher levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, copper and selenium
  • White clover growth boosts sward yields and palatability in the mid season, when grass growth both slows and loses palatability
  • In a number of trials, including our own mixture trials, DM yield of identical blends of grass increased by 1-2 tonnes per hectare over a full season, when white clover was included in the mixtures.

Pointers for success:

Select the best performing varieties from the Recommended Grass and Clover List. Medium and larger leaved varieties are most successful due to their competitive growth in high performance grass.

  • Sow 2.5-3.0kg/ha of clover seed – less in spring when clover establishes much better
  • Sow seed at no more than 10-15mm
  • Sow by the end of August. This allows plants to develop before the first frost and, more importantly, time to use a good clover safe herbicide before field conditions limit access with sprayers
  • Graze tight before winter
  • Weed Control – there are herbicides available which are safe to use in establishing white clover leys, but they must be used in the early establishment phase, normally within six weeks of sowing when the weed seedlings are at a vulnerable stage. This means establishment management can be an issue. They need to be used under certain conditions which can be supplied by a BASIS qualified agronomist.