Clover scoring is an important tool to help farmers decide whether to reseed paddocks or oversow clover in order to cut back on artificial nitrogen (N) use.

Last week, clover scoring was carried out across Footprint Farmer Barry Powell’s farm outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

Clover scoring is a useful tool to help farmers determine the clover levels on their farms, which will allow them to decide whether they need to oversow clover or reseed in order to cut back on artificial N use.

During a time when artificial N costs are high, this is a very cost-effective measure. This is because, depending on the clover levels across the field, N levels can be decreased or cut once temperatures rise and growth begins. For example, if a field has a clover distribution of 70%, artificial N use can be cut completely once growth starts in mid-April or at the start of May.

On the other hand, if the clover distribution in the field is below 40%, this means high fertiliser N rates will be required for growth. Alternatively, the farmer can choose to include clover in that sward through reseeding.

Oversowing clover is also a great option when clover distribution is between these two levels. So, if clover scores are between 40% and 70% across a paddock, farmers can choose to oversow clover here.

How is clover scoring carried out?

In this method of clover scoring, we assessed clover distribution rather than clover content. The fields are walked and the quadrat thrown randomly every 20 to 30 metres.

If there is clover present in the quadrat, this is marked; the amount is also noted for reference.

The distribution of clover is calculated by counting the amount of times the quadrat was thrown across the field.

For example, if the quadrat was thrown 23 times across a paddock, with only one time resulting in no clover in the quadrat, this means that this paddock has a clover distribution of 96%.

Once clover is evenly distributed and established across the fields, it should begin to yield similarly to a paddock that is receiving high levels of artificial N.

Barry's farm

On Barry’s farm, there were mixed levels of clover distribution across the paddocks.

On the home block, average clover distribution ranged from 19% to 90%, which shows massive variation across the farm. The out-farm had scores of 18% to 73%, which again shows great variation across the different fields.

The higher scores were seen across paddocks that had red and white clover included at reseeding last year.

Clover scoring has helped Barry to identify which paddocks need more clover inclusion, and he plans to reseed these paddocks in the coming weeks.

Other benefits of including clover in the sward

Barry has found the red clover silage to be great for feeding freshly calved cows this past spring. Due to its high palatability, it is ideal for boosting intake.

Barry’s red clover silage was tested and the results are in the table below.

The DMD, which shows the forage feeding value, is high at 76.5, as is the metabolisable energy (ME), which is also high at 11.1.