Red clover has a role to play on livestock farms that goes beyond its ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, Germinal grassland specialist William Fleming has said.

Speaking at an online event on Monday, Fleming outlined how red clover silage fed to cattle can bring a number of production benefits.

“Protein in red clover silage is less readily degraded in the rumen than ryegrass silage, reducing nitrogen losses and ammonia emissions. Forage intakes also tend to be higher,” stated Fleming.

Red clover takes careful management. While it can fix its own nitrogen, it does require regular applications of phosphorous (P) and potash (K) through organic or chemical fertilisers.

“In a three-cut system, yields are typically 12t/ha on a dry matter basis or 30t fresh weight.


At soil index 2, swards need around 120kg/ha of P and 250kg/ha of K annually to achieve such yields. Mow at a minimum height of 8cm and wilt to 35% dry matter.

It’s a fragile plant, so don’t use metal tine conditioners or tedd out after mowing. Lifting with a forage wagon rather than a self-propelled harvester will reduce field losses” advised Fleming.

When reseeding, red clover seeds should be drilled between 5mm and 10mm deep from late April to August, as long as soil temperature is above 7°C.

“If ploughing to reseed, there are carbon losses turning over soil. But on average, a reseeded sward will have recaptured that carbon within 18 to 24 months,” said Fleming.

He added that new varieties that extend the persistency of red clover and make it more suited to grazing, are currently undergoing trials.

“Early results are positive, but it will be several years before they hit the market,” Fleming said.

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