Clover – Something Old or Something New

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As we become older, a useful skill to develop is to make old things become new again. I have been forced (kicking and screaming) into this predicament, myself. One huge advantage with using “old technologies” is that us old geezers can be at least partially familiar with the process and not have to start completely from scratch.

In the forage business, I have been in the (winning) battle for the acceptance of grasses back into alfalfa stands. Even though the grasses are new not old, i.e., modern European genetics are being used that add yield and quality to the resulting forage crop. Another example, is the resuscitating the use of cover crops into modern crop farming in the place of more chemicals and fallow ground left over winter. Modern crops, like deep rooted annual ryegrasses, vetches, annual clovers and tillage radishes are starting to be viewed as much better solutions for improving soil structure, increasing organic matter, improving porosity and water-holding capacity and scavenging otherwise lost fertility.

A new idea (except for a few diehards, but still not with wide acceptance) is to reintroduce red clover in the mix with our alfalfa and tall fescue. The reason for my epiphany was that I got some new samples of forage to rebalance a ration and was jolted into awareness by the test results of a sample of red clover balage. It had a NDF-d of 65%! Remember NDF-d measures the digestibility of the most indigestible fraction of a forage, the NDF. Typical NDF-d’s of alfalfa haylage center around 45%. Twenty points of increased digestibility is a big deal. Please bear in mind I am not saying that we should eliminate alfalfa where we can grow it successfully; just that maybe we should reconsider clover as part of the mix, especially when we are many times looking at keeping alfalfa for only three rotations anyway. Clover will add to the quality.

The benefits of alfalfa are many and well known. However, let’s look at what modern improved varieties of red clover bring to the table:

  • More winter hardiness
  • Clover better tolerates “wet feet”
  • Not as dependant on high soil pH
  • Has higher RUP or bypass protein than alfalfa by almost double.

Work at the USDA Forage Research Center in Wisconsin with red clover replacing alfalfa showed:

  • Dairy cows had reduced feed intakes with red clover-based diets, but had similar milk yield and produced less manure. This is the result of increased digestibility and is termed dairy efficiency.
  • Less crude protein was converted to NPN, which improved dietary protein efficiency and reduced manure nitrogen

To be sure, when I searched all my data bases and threw in all the samples of clover I could get from Dairyland Labs, the samples of clover haylage did not average 65%, but rather 53.4% at 30 hours. In work at Cal-West, a major breeder of alfalfas and clovers I found with pure clover and alfalfa harvested in research plots on exactly the same day, Clover averaged 7.8% higher than alfalfa in NDF-d. When clover was harvested 3 to 4 days after the alfalfa, the clover still maintained a 3.6% advantage.

With the new improved varieties of red clover, with greater yields and persistence, maybe it is time to take another look. Even if you have to dry bale, Freedom Red Clover, with its lack of pubescence (or hairless stems) dries much like alfalfa. If dry baling is not an issue, Cyclone IIhas been a winner in both yield and persistence. Last, and not least, a new red clover, Emerald (limited supply), has a very impressive late season production.

How much clover should I sow? One of our Wisconsin dealers, Dave Storms, a commercial hay producer, and delivers his product to dairies all over the Midwest. He has 2 to 3 pounds of clover and 10#’s of grass (mostly tall fescue) in every one of his hayfields. Yields of 7 to 8 tons of dry matter of dairy quality baleage are standard for Dave.

Embracing old things that have become new again at least makes the transitions less devastating for us old timers. Even old dogs can learn new tricks when the new tricks aren’t completely off the wall. And, I guess, Solomon was right about there’s nothing new under the sun.

Orgin: Farming Magazine, PO Box 85, Mt. Hope, OH 44660, by Larry Hawkins

Frost Seeding of Clovers – by Bret Winsett

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It is February and before we know it, pastures will be greening up and spring will be upon us. Now is the time to get prepared for the upcoming grazing season and one of those items which we need to get accomplished is the incorporation of clovers such as Freedom! Or Emerald red clover and Regal Graze or Alice ladino clover into existing grass pastures via frost seeding. Frost seeding of clovers when done correctly can be relatively low cost and very successful.

Advantages

Both research and farmer experience has shown that incorporating a legume into grass based pasture can provide numerous benefits. Red clover incorporated into tall fescue has been shown to increase overall forage yields of pasture due to an increased nitrogen supply as well as the additional forage that clovers can supply. With the increased costs of stored feeds, the more grazeable forage that we can produce, the better our pastures will be. Clovers in cool season grass pastures are also known to improve quality through improved palatability as well as increase nutrient/crude protein concentration. This results in better conception rates, better weaning weights, increased average daily gains and better milk production. High quality is also important in getting dairy and beef cows rebred after calving. Having a good percentage of legumes in grass-based pastures has also been shown to decrease nitrogen fertilizer needs of the soil due to legumes ability to utilize nitrogen from symbiotic bacteria that live in nodules on their roots. In short, getting a good legume established in pastures is critical in optimizing the productivity and profitability of our pasture base.

Keys to success – Two keys in the success of frost seeding clovers are done prior to seeding. First is to insure good fertility and pH. Minimum soil pH for clovers is 6.0 and for optimum growth, pH should be near 6.5. Also, for success, maximum seed to soil contact is essential. Ideally, this is accomplished through close grazing prior to the broadcasting of seed. However, spring pasture residue can be partially eliminated by harrowing. Frost seeding is the spreading of seed during February and early March, allowing the honey combing action that is created by alternating freezing and thawing cycles that the weather brings to incorporate the clover seed into the top ¼ inch of soil. Seeding rate for Freedom! red clover is 6 – 8 pounds per acre. Freedom! has been selected for good levels of disease resistance and traffic tolerance. As a red clover, it will also produce much more high quality forage during the summer months than white or ladino types do. Seeding rates for Regal Graze ladino clover is 1 – 2 pounds per acre.

Regal Graze has also been selected for improved grazing tolerance over standard ladino or white clovers and will persist much longer than red clovers when managed. If minimal freezing thawing occurs, it is also suggested that hoof traffic be utilized to help ensure good seed to soil contact. Post planting management revolves around controlling of the grass and weeds during the first 2 – 3 months of the growing season to allow the clovers a chance to grow and establish. Pastures that have just been frost seeded with legumes should not have nitrogen applied to them during the spring season. Elimination of the spring application of nitrogen will reduce competition from the grasses and allow clovers the ability to access sunlight, as new seedlings are very susceptible to shading by established plants. Frost seeded pastures should be mowed or grazed regularly in the spring and early summer to allow for light penetration into the plant canopy. If grazing, care should be taken to avoid overgrazing by moving livestock off pastures before the young clover seedlings are consumed prior to adequate root development.

Old Things Become New! Why Clover Should be in your Hayfield – by Larry Hawkins

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As we become older, a useful skill to develop is to make old things become new again. I, have been forced (kicking and screaming) into this predicament, myself. One huge advantage with using “old technologies” is that us old geezers can be at least partially familiar with the process and not have to start completely from scratch.

In the forage business, I have been in the (winning) battle for the acceptance of grasses back into alfalfa stands. Even though the grasses are new not old, i.e., modern European genetics that add yield and quality to the resulting forage crop. Another example, is the resuscitating the use of cover crops into modern crop farming in the place of more chemicals. Modern crops, like deep rooted annual ryegrasses, vetches, annual clovers and tillage radishes are starting to be viewed as much better solutions to improving soil structure, increasing organic matter,  improving porosity and water-holding capacity and scavenging otherwise lost fertility.

A new idea (except for a few diehards, but still not with wide acceptance) is to reintroduce red clover in the mix with our alfalfa and tall fescue. The reason for my epiphany was that I got some new samples of forage to rebalance a ration and was jolted into awareness by the test results of a sample of red clover balage. It had a NDF-d of 65%! Remember NDF-d measures the digestibility of the most indigestible fraction of a forage, the NDF. Typical NDF-d’s of alfalfa haylage center around 45%. Twenty points of increased digestibility is a big deal. Please bear in
mind, I am not saying that we should eliminate alfalfa where we can grow it successfully; just that maybe we should reconsider clover as part of the mix, especially when we are looking at keeping alfalfa for only three rotations anyway. Clover will add to the quality.

The benefits of alfalfa are many and well known. However, let’s look at what modern improved varieties of red clover bring to the table:

  • More winter hardiness

  • Clover better tolerates “wet feet”

  • Not as dependant on high soil pH

  • Has higher RUP or bypass protein than alfalfa by almost double.

Work at the USDA Forage Research Center in Wisconsin with red clover replacing alfalfa showed:

  • Dairy cows had reduced feed intakes with red clover-based diets, but had similar milk yield and produced less manure. This is the result of increased digestility.

  • Less crude protein was converted to NPN, which improved dietary protein efficiency and reduced manure nitrogen

To be sure, when I searched all my data bases and threw in all the samples of clover I could get from Dairyland Labs, the samples of clover haylage did not average 65%, but rather 53.4% at 30 hours. In work at Cal-West, a major breeder of alfalfas and clovers I found with pure clover and alfalfa harvested in research plots on exactly the same day, Clover averaged 7.8% higher than alfalfa in NDF-d. When clover was harvested 3 to 4 days after the alfalfa, the clover still maintained a 3.6% advantage.

With the new improved varieties of red clover, with greater yields and persistence, maybe it is time to take another look. Even if you have to dry bale, Freedom Red Clover, with its lack of pubescence (or hairless stems) dries much like alfalfa. If dry baling is not an issue, Cyclone II has been a winner in both yield and persistence. Last, and not least, a new red clover, Emerald (limited supply), has a very impressive late season production.

How much clover should I sow? One of our larger Wisconsin dealers, Dave Storms is also very successful commercial balage producer, and delivers his product to dairies all over the Midwest. He has 2 to 3 pounds of clover and 10#’s of grass (mostly tall fescue) in every one of his hayfields. Yields of 7 to 8 tons of dry matter of dairy quality balage are standard for Dave. Embracing old things that have become new again at least makes the transitions less devastating for us old timers. Even old dogs can learn new tricks when the new tricks aren’t completely off the wall. And, I guess, Solomon was right about there’s nothing new under the sun.