Red clover can help increase milk yields

Feeding a 50/50 grass silage/red clover mix can increase milk yields by 3.7kg/cow/day compared to feeding a grass-only silage diet.

This is one of several benefits associated with feeding red clover, according to research undertaken by The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, IBERS, as part of the new Silage Advisory Centre.

Feeding a 50/50 mix was also found to increase dry matter intakes by 1kg DM/cow/day compared to grass silage alone.

Red clover will also convey significant cost savings in fertiliser and supplements, says Dave Davies, silage researcher and agricultural outreach manager at IBERS.

Cost savings in fertilisers and supplements

“The cost savings/ha/annum of a red clover sward, compared to a perennial ryegrass sward with 200kg of N fertiliser, is in the region of £103, with no reduction in forage yield.”

And dairy farmers currently applying 200kg N/ha/year in fertiliser could significantly reduce their nitrogen applications, without a reduction in forage yield, if they put white and red clover in their grazing and silage leys respectively.

Red clover inclusion will also enhance soil fertility, he says.

Forage yields and soil improvements

“This will provide benefits in rotational systems, with improved soil fertility making other crops in rotation more profitable.”

A red clover silage crop will also produce high yields of 13t DM/ha/year – the equivalent to an Italian/hybid ryegrass ley with 250 units of N/ac (100 units N/ha).

“Farmers will also benefit from a wider harvesting window compared to grass as digestibility does not drop as rapidly as grass once the crop has flowered,” he explains.

However, to get the full benefits associated with red clover, farmers should consider baling the crop.

Flexible feeding options

Big baled silage is a good option for the majority of farmers who have a lower percentage of grass than red clover, Mr Davies says.

“When clover is ensiled with grass in large clamps, it gets ‘lost’ and can’t be fed out accurately at the optimal nutritional requirements.

“Bales enable accurate inclusion in the feed and they can also be easily identified, accessed and quantitified so the play-off between silage yield and optimum nutrition can be adjusted for the winter feeding regime.”

For detailed factsheets and more advice on establishing red clover crops visit