Relish the returns with red clover

Shaun Mahony, Stephen Pasture Seeds, Central & Southern VIC

Relish Red Clover

Relish, a recently released red clover variety from Agricom is proving to be an exciting alternative to lucerne for fixing nitrogen for subsequent crops and maintaining animal health for both sheep and dairy as a grazing clover.

Red clover is a perennial clover that can persist for up to four years if managed correctly. It can be very productive given good fertility and high rainfall or irrigation. Red clover’s main growing season is through late spring, summer and autumn, similar to the growing season of lucerne. Similar to lucerne, red clover is a legume that fixes nitrogen, prefers mild to well-drained soil types and does not like acidic soils. There are some good grazing types that are reasonably persistent and there are hay specific types.

Relish is a recently released grazing red clover that is semi prostrate and stoloniferous resulting in good persistence and quality under grazing compared to the erect hay types. The hay types, like USA Red are tall erect plants making them ideal for cutting, however, persistence can be compromised under grazing. 

Relish red clover can be sown as a pure stand or in a mix with other plant species. It can be autumn sown or spring sown. In autumn sown scenarios red clover can be sown in a mix with a perennial grass (ryegrass, cocksfoot, tall fescue) and with white clover. In spring sown scenarios red clover can be sown as a pure crop or in a mix as it is very compatible with herbs, like Tonic plantain and Choice chicory, or brassicas, like Winfred forage brassica or the new Mainstar rape.

As an alternative to growing lucerne, pure stands of Relish red clover can fix large amounts of nitrogen for subsequent crops. Excellent lamb weight gains are possible by grazing Relish red clover. The high quality crop can also assist in maintaining healthy triplet or twin bearing ewes before lambing. Some fantastic lambs have gone through the Ballarat sales yards as a result of grazing Relish red clover.

On dairy farms, establishment and persistence of clover can be challenging. Spring sowing red clover, either as a pure stand or with a summer crop like maize or sorghum, a common practice in high fertile paddocks in south west Victoria, will enable the red clover to become established prior to autumn sowing the perennial grass. As the season cools down over winter, the grass component will gradually increase and by the time spring arrives there will be a great stand of grass and red clover. Halo AR37 perennial ryegrass has been used in the south west for dairy farmers going back to a perennial grass and clover stand, or Knight Italian ryegrass has successfully been used to provide quick winter feed with Relish.

Caution must be used when grazing pure stands of red clover, especially with cattle, as bloat can result if not managed correctly. Although this can be an issue, careful management and a balanced diet will greatly reduce this risk. Another concern when selecting a red clover variety is the level of oestrogen. Oestrogen is a hormone that is found in some legume plant species that can cause infertility predominately in sheep but may also affect cattle. Older red clover varieties that contain higher levels of oestrogen are a higher risk of causing reproductive issues, so plant breeders have strived to breed varieties containing lower levels. Relish red clover has been selected for low levels of oestrogen and persist really well under grazing, compared to USA Red that has high levels of oestrogen meaning caution should be applied to grazing with sheep before and after joining.

As red clover is a relatively large seed, the recommended sowing rate for pure stands is 6-10kg/ha. When sowing with Winfred or Mainstar rape a mix of 4kg/ha red clover plus 3 kg/ha of brassica will result in excellent summer feed, adequate nitrogen fixation and a fantastic stand of red clover to autumn sow your grass into.

Further reading:

  • Agricom- Relish red Clover Pure Stand Systems https://www.agricom.co.nz/assets/files/Guides/Relish%20Red%20Clover%20Pure%20Stands%20EMAIL.pdf
  • Agriculture Victoria- Oestrogen in pasture, hay and silage http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/pests-diseases-and-weeds/animal-diseases/beef-and-dairy-cows/oestrogens-in-pasture-hay-and-silage
  • NSW DPI- Red Clover http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pastures-and-rangelands/species-varieties/red-clover
  • Red Clover- Establishment, Management and Utilization. D. Undersander et al. University of Wisconsin http://pss.uvm.edu/pdpforage/Materials/ForageSelection/A3492Red%20Clover.PDF 
  • Stephen Pasture Seeds 2017 Pasture Reference Guide

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