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Red Clover Sward Management

Red Clover is a relatively short-term ley maintaining high levels of production typically for three-to-six years. The red clover tends to die out of the sward over time. The high costs of reseeding and risks associated with reseeding explains why it has not been widely used and there is relatively little experience of it on Irish farms.

  • Red clover seeding rate - 20 to 22 kg/ha of grass seed plus 7 to 10 kg/ha of red clover seed. White clover can also be added to the mix at a rate of 1 kg/ha if required.
  • In the establishment year, red clover should be allowed to flower before harvesting the first cut of silage to help root development and the growth of the bacteria that fix N.
  • In subsequent years, silage harvesting should occur at intervals of six to eight weeks, any time between bud development and early flowering.
  • Three to four silage cuts can be taken each year. Approximately 80-90% of total annual yield will be obtained from silage cuts completed by late July-early August. The final cut should be taken no later than mid-October.
  • In the autumn, herbage should be cut or grazed - ideally in October without poaching, soil compaction and physical damage to the plant crowns.
  • Cut silage crops to a residual height of 7-8 cm above ground level.
  • Optimum post-grazing sward height is 6 cm.
  • Optimum over-wintering sward height is 4-6 cm above ground level.
  • Red clover can contain up to 1% oestrogenic compounds. Oestrogen levels can lower ewe fertility. Therefore, do not allow breeding ewes to graze red clover swards or eat red clover silage for a period of 6 weeks before and after mating to avoid any adverse effect of red clover oestrogens on lambing percentage. Store lambs can be offered red clover swards and silage at any time.
  • In terms of grazing, the risk of bloat is reportedly higher with red clover than white clover. The risk is highest in cold, wet weather and when the animals are particularly hungry. Get more information on bloat management practices here
  • Red clover typically has a relatively short lifespan at farm level – two to four years. The correct management, as outlined above, is critical to ensure the crown of the red clover plant is protected and that red clover is maintained in the sward.