12 July 2002

More land for red clover

By Robert DaviesWales correspondent

TAKING on extra rented land last year has allowed a west Wales milk producer to grow extra forage and expand the dairy herd, despite the land being too far away to graze.

In 2000 Morris Davies and his wife Nona were running 70 milkers on 30ha (73 acres) at Hafod farm, Ferwig, Cardigan, when they decided more cows were needed to make a sustainable living. The solution was to take a three-year business tenancy on 12ha (29 acres) of off lying land and use it to grow red clover silage. This has allowed them to keep an extra 20 cows.

"We decided to grow red clover because we wanted decent yields of good quality silage without using a lot of nitrogen," said Mr Davies. "With such limited land red clover silage, grown as an arable crop, was the best way of expanding our herd."

The land had been in set aside and before it could be used weeds, including docks, rushes, bent grass and blackberries, had to be cleared. A combination of dry cow grazing and burning preceded ploughing and reseeding, Mr Davies told visitors attending a Welsh Dairy Development Programme farm open day.

The mixture sown in spring 2001 contained the tetraploid hybrid ryegrass AberLinnet, the intermediate and late flowering ryegrasses AberDart and AberCraigs, and Merviot red clover. Lime was applied to correct low pH. But no fertiliser, other than slurry, was used during establishment, neither were herbicides or pesticides.

The first cut, in August 2001, produced 19.9t/ha of fresh silage (7.9t/acre). A second cut in October yielded 4.8t/ha (2t/acre). First cut analysis indicated 23% dry matter, a D-value of 62, a metabolisable energy content of 9.9MJ/kg and 15.3% protein.

First cut this year, taken in mid-May, produced 12t/ha (5t/acre) of fresh herbage. Producers at the open day had the chance to inspect the second crop the day before harvesting, when the estimated yield was 16.8t/ha (6.8t/acre).

Because Hafod is one of the demonstration farms linked to the Welsh Assemblys Farming Connect programme, the red clover/grass crop is being closely monitored. The sward cost £240/ha (£97/acre) to establish and potash applied this season cost £15/ha (£6/acre).

The crop has been so successful, Mr Davies has rented another 8ha (20 acres) of land and undersown a red clover/ryegrass mixture into wheat which will be crimped.

Red clover silage will be fed to the August to early April calving herd which is usually housed between November and early March. Heifers are part contract reared and dry cows graze 7ha (17 acres) of rented land. This year grass silage cuts will be taken from about 32ha (80 acres) to ensure adequate stocks.

In addition to increasing herd size, the Davies have also been seeking to increase cow yields. Rolling herd average increased from 7600 litres/cow in November 2000 to 8450 litres/cow in June this year. But, with extra high quality forage available, costings show milk from forage fell only by 160 litres to 3500 litres/cow.

While growing red clover on rented land has worked well for the Davies, Deborah Courtney, of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Researchs technology transfer team, said there were other options for expansion. She suggested also considering growing forage maize or finding ways of increasing the area cut for grass silage.

But red clover had several advantages, including the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a plant usable form. Growing it also improved soil fertility and structure, and produced high yields of high quality silage, she said.

The crop should be productive for two or three years and was easier to manage than many other high protein crops. Dairy cow intakes of silage made from it were good and the risk of bloat was negligible, she added.

&#8226 The Dairy Development Programme provides technological and practical advice to Welsh producers through Gelli Aur College in Carmarthenshire, three development farms, a network of commercial demonstration farms and 15 discussion groups. &#42