Watch: Reaping the benefits of red clover with Future Beef farmer Ken Gill
Farming full-time in Clonbullogue, Co. Offaly, Ken Gill operates an organically-certified beef and tillage enterprise, along with 22ha of forestry.
Trading as Ballydermot Organic Farm Ltd, the beef enterprise consists of 65 autumn-calving cows. All progeny are brought to beef, which is aimed at under 24 months.
Being organic means that crop rotation is vital to ensure the continued health of the soil and to aid weed suppression in new swards. Oats are grown for sale into the organic breakfast market. Red clover for quality silage and winter fodder crops are also sown in certain areas of the farm.
Swards with a high red clover content have the potential to fix 150-200kg nitrogen (N)/ha, which allows for reduced chemical N use on conventional farms, while reducing greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions.
Different species in the sward allow for enhanced biodiversity, while the deep taproot gives greater drought tolerance and contributes to improved soil structure. Research from Teagasc Grange shows that red clover silage achieves higher voluntary intakes from animals, which supports higher growth levels.
For Ken Gill, red clover fits into his tillage rotation, which is typically: grassland > oats (two years) > red clover (three to four years) > oats (three years) > grassland. The mix used for the current crop was organic and contained 10kg perennial ryegrass, 3kg red clover, and 1kg white clover. It is advisable to use red clover varieties from the UK recommended list as no Irish list is available. Soil fertility is crucial and the red clover field has a pH of 7.1 and is in index 4 for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
The field yielded 13 bales/acre in 2022. The silage analysis for the first cut showed 77.56% dry matter digestibility (DMD) and 14.8% crude protein at a dry matter of 34.38%.
In the below video, Ken Gill discusses the management of his red clover swards:
This article first appeared in the Future Beef newsletter for May. To access Ken's full farm update, click here. For more information on the Future Beef Programme and to sign up to future newsletters, click here.