Clover seedlings: It’s do or die time for clover seedlings. Many farmers over-sowed clover into established swards in the last few weeks. Germination has been good – it’s easy to get clover to germinate but harder to keep it alive. The biggest issue is that it gets shaded out by the grass plant. A good few seedlings will get trampled on at grazing too, although many will recover. In order to avoid the grass canopy from shading it out, it must be grazed at low covers. With growth rates so strong at present, this means grazing these over-sown fields every 10 to 12 days. Applying less nitrogen will slow down grass growth, which will help the clover to get established. Even if soil fertility is good, these seedlings will need to be fed with P and K as their roots are tiny.

Clover sown as part of new reseeds doesn’t have the same competition for light or space. The challenge here will be weed control later in the season. Some earlier sown fields are coming near the time to spray for weeds. The best time to hit docks is when they are small, about the size of a €2 coin. Clover-safe sprays for new leys are not available yet. Don’t be tempted to spray with non-clover-safe sprays and over-sow with clover later, as this will not be as effective as sowing with the grass. Best policy is to wait for the clover-safe spray to become available.

Butterfat: On page 32, we look at research coming from Moorepark on ways to prevent butterfat drop in milk at this time of year. Interestingly, there was no significant difference between any of the treatments with regard to butterfat percentage. Numerically, the cows with the highest butterfat percentage were the ones fed no meal. Other ingredients, including protected fats and chopped and pelleted straw, had no impact. This research follows previous work at UCD using yeasts, which found little benefit in grazing dairy cows.

Ultimately, there is something causing butterfat to drop that researchers can’t yet figure out. In the meantime, farmers need to be aware that many of the ‘cures’ they are buying may not actually be effective at all.

Silage: Most silage fields are fit for cutting a week or so earlier than normal, certainly much earlier than last year. The bad news is that the forecast is set to remain broken up to the weekend and early next week. It’s looking like there will be an opportunity to cut at the weekend. Apart from trying to avoid making wet silage, what are the other things to get right?

  • Sugar levels in the grass should be 3% or higher at cutting. These will be highest in the evening.
  • Nitrates levels should be less than 600ppm and no more than 800ppm. A good wilt will overcome high nitrates, but this may not be possible in broken weather.
  • The only effective additives that should be used in bad weather are either molasses or acid – neither of which are very common now.