Red clover is a powerhouse in a pasture and can have real animal performance advantages, so let Al and Juddy talk you through the ins and outs of this legume, as well as how it can best fit into a farming system.
"It’s a really important species to New Zealand agriculture, particularly now and remember red clover is the driver, it’s not the passenger."
Juddy And this particular episode, Alister, what are we going to be talking about?
Al Well, Glenn, we're going to be discussing Red Clover and all of its characteristics and its roles in New Zealand agriculture. So on the agenda today, we are going to look at what is red clover and the types and styles that might come from. We're going to discuss its special powers as far as it being a legume, cover off how we came about the genetics we have today in Agricom's portfolio, discuss animal performance and animal related topics all day and look at some of the animal health things which with Dr death in the room, that's always useful and cover off the pests, some of the pests of it. And finish with how does the red clover fit in your farm systems?
Juddy Yeah, and that'll be really important to see how we can fit red clover into a farm system and get the best use out of it. So tell me a little bit about red clover. What is actually red clover as a species?
Al Well, Juddy red clover is Trifolium pratense. It's a tap rooted plant that has predominately a stem habit, it's a bunched habit, in its growth but when it goes reproductive, it forms stems. And what that basically means for pastoral environments where you make hay and silage, and it's really in the New Zealand landscape where we graze our pastures that red clover has developed into a predominantly a grazing plant as opposed to a silage or hay type species. It's quite a shy seeder. It requires long-tongue bumblebees to pollinate and so seed production of red is actually quite an art form and it does require that that insect is a primary pollinator and it's defined by being called red clover, but it's got quite large flowers that sort of go from pink almost to a purplish red. But with some sets of genetics, you can even find the odd white, larger white flower, too, which won't be confused with white clover. The primary types I've already touched on is that you tend to find there is upright hay and silage types so they can be quite steamy through their reproductive phase. And then you've got a group that particularly has been involved in New Zealand's plant breeding history that are associated with grazing and forming a more bunched habit. And you tend to find these types revert back from steam elongation back to a bunched habit very quickly under grazing.
Juddy So let's say I'm in the paddock and I've got some clover and I want to identify, you know, whether it's red clover or potentially white. So, so one of them, obviously, is the flower colour. So is there something simple that we could look at to see whether we had a white clover or a red clover?
Al Absolutely probably fits best through autumn and early spring and winter where you might have dewy mornings. What you will see very clearly is any dew droplets in your pasture will be holding to the leaves of red clover and not white. And that's because red clover is hairy, so it's got fine hairs all over its leaves and stem and you tend to find it catches the moisture and white clovers is hairless, which basically means the water runs off it very successfully. So it's one of the telltale signs, hairy leaves and hairy plants vs. clean, hairless plants.
Juddy And so with red clover, I guess really important to try and understand the seasonal growth patterns of that in a pasture. Can you describe to me a little bit about what those seasonal growth habits are? When are we going to see it and when does it become more dormant?
Al Yeah. So when we're dealing with a legume, you tend to find they're temperature driven. Plants with bigger taproots have abilities to get going. They've got more reserves to get going on the shoulders of the season at times. But in general terms, they're not particularly winter active compared to grass species. So you'd see with our reds today, particularly our earlier flowering reds, they tend to activate pretty intensively in September and they peak in their quite overwhelming growth actually by November. They have strengths in summer and early autumn because again, they are going through the reproductive phase there and they're taprooted and they carry their own nitrogen, so they are quite active around the hotter and partially drier time of year. So red clover's got a classical habit of peaking in November and being quite a strong performer relative to other species through summer and early autumn.
Juddy Yeah, actually, an interesting fact about red clover is that it's actually a plant that's used in some human health supplements, so it's actually got a range of secondary plant compounds that are actually really useful from a human health point of view. So it's not just a forage, it's actually got some other attributes. And I guess the other point, we'll cover this a little bit later, because of the ability for it to grow quite large amounts and be certainly high quality, we do find that we get an improved animal performance, particularly growth, when we've got this in our pasture. So it's a very useful thing to have in pastures. We've talked about the difference between red clover and white Clover a little bit. Does red clover spread at all? What's the relationship between the amount that we sow and the amount that we get a pasture over time?
Al So the key to red clover is quite a large seed, and it's probably bordering on close to twice the size of a white clover seed. So you have one seed, one plant and with white clover, it's a clonal spreading plant with horizontal stems called stolons and that means that as the root structure, the primary root structure, breaks down a white clover after about 18 months, it starts to fragment off on those stolen and they are rooted to the ground and it can actually clonely move across pasture. With red clover it is a one seed one plant species, which basically means it's not vegetatively spreading. There are small traits and different genetics found that may suggest you might be able to have a little tiny bit of lateral spread, but relative to white clover, it's insignificant. And it is very much one seed, one plant, one taproot, one space, it's not forever moving. The only way it moves in your pasture is if you let it go through to a full seed set, which pasture is quite advanced and hayed off would be the best description, and then you might get spread by seed quite successfully. But by then, you've definitely let your pasture go, lost the quality, creating a hay like product.
Juddy And so I guess one of the benefits, apart from it is a forage, is being legume it fixes nitrogen. So give me a little bit of a flavour of when we talk about it fixes nitrogen, give me a brief description of what actually that means.
Al There's a series of rules pretty much about the efficiency of some of these primary pasture legumes for nitrogen fixation and the fundamental rule that applies to white clover actually does appear to be applying to red as well. And that is it converts atmospheric nitrogen through rhizobia in a symbiotic relationship to feed the plant nitrogen and that nitrogen is cycled through the plant into the animal and from the animal into meat and milk. And the leftover is then urinated out and creating the nitrogen cycle based on the legume through the animal to the ground. That ratio is in the bounds of about 28 grams per kg of drymatter which is very, very similar to white clover. The efficiencies are very similar. There's a bit of literature that varies between Europe and probably what we're experiencing here in New Zealand, but it is fixing nitrogen at a pretty consistent rate. The other element is the breaking down of root structures and nodules off the roots underground, which is another pool of nutrient that has been created by these legumes. And what we have seen with our genetics is that as we're breaking that primary taproot driver which I think we're doing in the breeding world, when we're breeding for grazing resilience, we're tending to break that dependency on single storage part of the plant, which is a taproot and creating a lot of laterals. And these laterals are spreading the root structure across the surface under the soil more. And that means that when the root hairs and the nodules break down, that's spreading nitrogen around itself quite generously, is what I would describe with red clover.
Juddy So red clover is taking atmospheric nitrogen, of which what we breathe is about 78 per cent and it's taking that nitrogen and it's incorporating it into the plant and therefore that's the start of the cycle and we're either through the animal or a death of those parts of the plant that die annually, we're getting that cycling off of nutrients. And it seems to be that this plant is very generous with its nitrogen. There are some other legumes where that cycling is not nearly as high and so red clover is one of those things that you will see benefits to the companion grasses, for example, by having high rates of red clover. What are the pests, in terms of, you know, probably apart from the grazing animal that are likely to damage red clover?
Al Well, for starters, the big pasture pest in New Zealand for legumes is clover root weevil, which is a small weevil that was successfully colonised in New Zealand, and it has a...
Juddy Does it eat the roots?
Al Yeah it does
Juddy Is that why it's called Clover Root Weevil?
Al Yes, but only the larvae eat the roots, the adult eats the leaves and creates notches in the leaves. However, the key driver there is that the adult has to be happy with what it's eating to then lay eggs in the ground and that the larvae shear off all the root hairs and the nodules and put a lot of pressure on the survival of the legume. The key here to red clover is that it's actually quite tolerant of that particular legume pest and partly because it's got a hairy leaf and that appears to detract the adults from hanging around and staying unless it's the only legume left in the pasture, in which case the adults will still shread it. But once the larvae are in the ground, they will eat the root hairs of red clover and they will eat the nodules off. But the difference between it and other legumes is they're quite a big mass and these larvae a very small so they can't damage the roots to the same degree they can a white clover or other legumes once they're underground. When we're looking at the real pests, though, from a perenniality perspective, grass scrub, a New Zealand native grass grub would, without doubt, be one of the larger pests, of red clover. However, red clover can tolerate it to a high degree again because it's got a large root mass underground. But the reality is grass grub is a large larva, and it's actually eating a lot and damaging a lot of the underground amount. So although many red clover plants can tolerate grass grub feeding, if it gets quite wet after a large feeding event there's a lot of damage to roots underground. And therefore you can get diseases, secondary plant diseases coming into the damage points and you tend to find they are very, very slow to recover if they survive and don't get secondary plant diseases and collapse. If they survive you tend to find they're very slow as they are reforming all those root hairs and root mass. So grass grubs are pretty devastating. We do see a bit of feeding from porina, which is a widespread caterpillar found as a pasture pest in New Zealand pastures, it's a brown moth that flies in November through to probably about February.
Juddy And they're the ones that hit the window...
Al They're the ones your cats go nuts on. And once those are flying, you'll end up with large caterpillars, probably within about five months that are quite active in your pasture. And the other primary pest during your establishment phase with red, and that's slugs. So it's very, very much a targeter of legumes. They will also obviously feed very heavily on all establishing pasture species. But they do target legumes, so slugs are a real issue for establishing legumes, including red clover.
Juddy And are they more prevalent in wet conditions?
Al Yeah, they are and direct drill. So once you maintain a lot of material on top of the surface, depending on how much residual you have in your process and how much residual you've left and how much you are direct drilling through would define the risk of slug problems. But definitely humid, wet conditions with a large amount of residual puts a lot of pressure on establishing legumes.
Juddy Actually, I've got a racing snail. You might be interested in this, I've got a racing snail, and I actually took the shell off the racing snail to see if it would go faster. It just made it sluggish.
Al Juddy please. That's a shocker.
Juddy And so we should move on...
Al Yes. Very quickly.
Juddy So let's talk about where Agricom's cultivar Relish has come from because of its breeding and the way it's been developed, it's slightly different to a lot of the traditional breeds. So what's the breeding behind Relish?
Al Well, as you pointed out, Relish is our current flagship red clover product, but our heritage has come through two long-term products in New Zealand called Colenso and in more recent time Sensation. All of these products were bred out of the Ag Research breeding programme, which is really comprehensive and red clover had been sitting in that breeding programme for a very long time and in the late 90s, early 2000s a very, very large and diverse genetic pool of red clovers was evaluated and they were extensively evaluated and through bringing some of that genetics together, Relish as a breeding line was created. Now that programme is very, very focussed on survival of red clover, which has always been a questionable point and one that I didn't cover at the start, is red clover in the world as a hay and silage type product, is almost anything from a two to three cut product to one year to eight months. As far as survival goes, without seeding.
Juddy So quite a short-lived crop?
Al particularly the types designed for subtropical zones and areas where you focussed on hay and silage production.
Juddy And I guess that's where we sometimes we get the comments saying, I really love red clover, but it doesn't last.
Al So when we stabilised around the diploid style of red clover that is most commonly used partly because of its more successful seed production, but also because they tend to be quite resilient and more tillered basically, they form a bigger bunch, which is more tolerant of grazing. We have really formed these grazing styles and it is really an important part of that Ag Research Development Programme was the success of about over 100 genotypes or rescissions, of red clover being evaluated under grazing and quite intense grass competition and cattle grazing. And it's through this work that after three and a half years, the Relish red clover plants were literally standouts for survival. I believe if I can remember correctly the paper, it was about 60 per cent of the original plants were still alive at three and a half years, and the very best commercial line was, I think, between 18 and 20 per cent of the total number of plants surviving and out of the 100 or more recessions from all over the world, all of them were less than that. So it has been a real step change in persistence under grazing in grass pastures and persistence full stop. So Relish has been a bit of a game changer for Agricom. We were really happy with the varieties we were dealing with before, but the resilience and the performance of this particular cultivar has been nothing but outstanding. All of these sorts of genetics have also been developed selecting for low phytoestrogens, which is one of those interesting plant, it's basically mimicking a human hormone or an animal hormone, but it's been created by a plant. So that's why it's called a phyto oestrogen, and this has been attributed to some of the reproductive issues historically, back in the 70s, particularly they focussed on this as one of the limitations to using red, but that's been a targeted breeding activity of reducing phytoestrogen so that they are much, much lower than they were.
Juddy So I guess probably that the plants producing that as some sort of defence mechanism, probably. And so what's probably been nice about the Relish red clover is we've managed to get something that's lasting longer from a genetic point of view, as well as a lower phytoestrogen.
Al Which highlights it wasn't a direct link and there was other more significant traits possibly change of root structural or change of habit that has probably driven that.
Juddy So I agree. I mean, I think this has been a real success for plant breeding in terms of being able to solve kind of the Achilles heel of red clover, and it wasn't lasting long enough, but also gain the benefits of having something that's very productive and may represent lower risk in terms of some of those phytoestrogens and it's typically around the reproductive performance of animals
Al Just out of interest, with that in mind, moving on to animals, the animal performance from red what you've done a huge amount of work in this area, from live weight gains looking at summer allocation through to lactation feeding ewes and lambs, you know, can you take us through why this plant is so special from an animal performance perspective?
Juddy Yeah I guess, you know, a lot of the work we've done both in sheep and cattle, in general, you will see an increase in terms of most of the productive parameters of animals when you start feeding large amounts of red clover or increasing amounts of red clover. And I guess there's a couple of reasons for that and the first thing is around intake. For clovers, what we've got is a plant that is easily harvested. We've got leaves in the horizontal plane, not the vertical. So they're much more easily harvested and the material because of the way it's put together breaks down very quickly in the animal's rumen. So what we've got are these very fast passage rates, animals are returning to grazing far sooner. And we're finding an increase in terms of intake over the day. So in a lot of cases red clover from a feed test point of view is no more high quality than the resistant ryegrass that's there, but the way animals can graze that. For sheep the preference towards those species and the speed at which those animals processes that feed through the gut means that they eat more in a day. So typically when we're eating red clover, we have a higher intake of a high quality forage and therefore we have some increases in animal performance. The other key part of this is the protein level, so where our resident ryegrasses may be at a much lower concentration of nitrogen for example, the protein levels, red clover typically brings its own, so it's fixing nitrogen. So it's not often that we find red clover being deficient in nitrogen, sometimes when we haven't got nodulation or when they're quite young we can run into that problem, but typically red clover is very good in terms of protein and quality of protein. So we talk about crude protein, red clover, has good true protein and therefore a much higher supply of protein to the animal.
Al I’ll just stop you there for a second, Glenn, because you just described a super plant for animals, but I would just warn everyone it's not that straightforward because the reality is it's still a stem based plant. So all these nutritional benefits you've just been discussing are when it's a vegetative leafy state.
Juddy Yeah, true. I guess that was going to be my other point is in terms of allocation, as we increase the amount that we allocate to animals, they are able to eat more and therefore production and animal performance goes up. But that is, as you say, when we have got very leafy vegetative material. The one thing about red clover is if we let this plant really stretch it's legs and potentially get up to the top of the fence, which red clover is quite able to do, we see the quality, the overall quality, of that plant decline enormously and some of those stems of the red clover plant when they get very mature, you know, they are very woody and the quality of that is poor.
Al And just to put that in perspective, really poor. So I can't emphasise enough, that it's the same for other legumes that are aerial stem, when those stems lignify and go off, you cannot expect their feed test to have high protein. Well, they'll have slightly higher protein than other plants that are not legumes. They'll have higher protein, but their quality and the levels of that protein will still be low. So I've seen, just to put it in perspective, I've seen feed tests with MEs below nine and crude proteins around 12 from red clover and other stem based legumes. So just because they're legumes, be very aware that once a stem is lignified that is not a high quality plant part. It fits very well in a hay type system, but hay is not a high quality feed. It's not a finishing feed.
Juddy It looks really impressive when you've got red clover up to the fence line, it looks amazing. The reality is that's probably as poorer quality as a seeding ryegrass. So I think that the management around the volumes that you move into and the ability to stop it throwing these big heavy stems by grazing is really important.
Al And I'd bring that up from a systems perspective because we are discussing a high quality plant that can be a milking plant can deliver live weight gain, help velveting stags. It's a pretty impressive plant and we'll discuss that in farm systems usage later. But if you're trading a supplement? Yes, you want the volume and red will deliver the volume. There is no question you can hit six seven tonne yields, but again, it's absolutely a collapse of quality and you move to a maintenance type feed, from a finishing feed. If you're harvesting at about 3000 to 3500 kg of dry matter, maybe even four you might get away with when you're you're cutting silage with red in it. However, once you clock those five six seven tonne silage crops, you are not dealing with a finishing silage you're dealing with a maintenance silage, so it's really important just to be aware this is quite meaningful for the way you accumulate because clover is a powerhouse and you can grow more with it. But it comes at a cost to quality when you try to push those big yields.
Juddy So my rule of thumb as if you were silaging, if you can hide a beer box in your red clover crop, it's time to get the silage chopper in because you're now starting to get over some of those yields that were talking about. I guess the other thing is when you mention red clover to the farmers, one of the first things that they start talking about is some of the animal health issues that are associated with it, and there's probably two that stand out the most. The first one is around bloat, and this is not a non-bloating species, so we can get occasions of bloat, particularly in cattle around high red clover intake. But in the past, you know, a lot of our dairies have had cow grass or red clover in them. And so this is not a you can't do this, it's a yes, there is an increased risk but with that increased risk, we get added benefits in terms of, you know, peaks in milk and maintaining peaks. There's a real benefit in terms of having it there but there is this requirement to be aware that it can cause bloat. So the normal bloat mitigation options apply here. So it might be that you are using some bloat oils either to the animal itself or into the water trough. Maintaining that these animals are full, that we're not going from very high intakes to very low intake. So there's some things you can do to mitigate the risk. But we've got to be aware that as we increase the amount of clover and particularly red clover in the sward, that there can be a risk the other one and we talked a little bit about the phytoestrogens and the effect it has on the reproductive cycle. So yes, we have been breeding for low levels in our genetics, but given some of the environment and year and the soil that it goes into, we can actually get even the lowest cultivars to drift up in terms of their phytoestrogen. And what that's essentially doing is mimicking oestrogen in the animal and therefore it tends to reduce fecundity of animals, not fertility. So fecundity is we would be expecting to get less multiples and maybe a few more dries, but particularly less multiples. And therefore the use of red clover through that mating period is probably not ideal. Now I give a caveat to that. If you have other options then it may be that if you are chasing the maximum lambing percentage, if you like that, you then may use other forages. But I think where red clover is doing its thing where it is the best paddock on the farm, particularly may be coming out of a dry summer into that autumn period, I would say getting ewes on a rising plane of nutrition with good protein levels is probably going to do more benefit than worrying too much about the passing affect of some phytoestrogen. Particularly if it's the only green thing on your farm, I think increasing the performance of the animals or the rising plane of nutrition is far more important than sticking them out in the dry hill and running into a decrease, that's a much larger effect.
Al Yeah. So that's exactly right, and we'll probably share a little bit of experience in the space where we've used a lot of pure stands of red in this particular role, looking at grazing hoggets and I've got a dodgy photo on my phone, which you know, out of context, you every now and then you do see udder development in new lambs that are grazing on red clover in the autumn. We've attempted to track that all the way through to their reproductive outcomes, but also there's been no distinctive scary messages that have come from those individuals. But don't be surprised if you're using this to finish ewe lambs and ewe lambs replacements that when you shear them in the autumn, that you may see some mammary development, which is associated with a phytoestrogen scenario. It doesn't mean that they have been impaired in any way specifically.
Juddy I remember one particular bit of work where we actually raised some ewe lambs right through to their first mating, and they didn't see anything apart from red clover that we did see some uncommon mammary development on those, but we were able to mate those successfully and therefore we didn't see any long term effects of that. The one warning I would give is that's probably not the same for male lambs. So if we are raising male lambs that are going to go on to be stud rams, there is a little bit of evidence that supplying high oestrogen feeds for extended period, particularly through puberty, may actually impair the male. And so it might be really good to keep them away from those sorts of feed.
Al The risk profiles just that much higher because one ram has so much more influence than one ewe.
Juddy Yeah. So getting to the farm system because I think...
Al We've been touching on them all the way through because it's becoming quite obvious, it's a very important species to New Zealand agriculture so yeah.
Juddy And so in terms of the farm system, let's talk a little bit now about how you would incorporate this into a farm system and get the best out of it. So I really want to talk about the system you put it into. And then how, actually, you can use it to its best advantage in those systems.
Al So Juddy the way I'd probably like to handle this is that we focus on the real two predominantly broad ways of using red clover as it stands today. But then I'd be pretty keen to break it down by farm type and actually farm system inside. And so what we're really discussing here is its use in a pasture mixture. And all by itself or as a primary driver to what you would describe as a pure legume finishing scenario. So if I start with the pasture mixture, you know, you really do need to understand just how strong a contribution red clover can make to your farm, either with your personal experience or whether you're trying to push things on from where you already exist. And the key here is that it is an expensive addition to a pasture mix and the key to that is one of the histories associated with judgements about persistence is something I mentioned earlier about one seed, one plant. If you don't put enough seed in and you're trying to judge persistence, but you don't have a lot of plants from the start, that's quite a big deal. So sowing rate of red clover in a pasture mix has quite a big influence on one how much you get there to start with and how much it can add to your pasture.
Al But also your perception of how much is there later.
Juddy Yeah. So sometimes we get farmers saying, well, red clover wasn't for me, you know, I threw a kilo in and never saw it. And I guess what you're saying is that a kilo represents about half a kilo of white. And actually what you're seeing might be an excellent result from the amount of seed that you put in to start with and that knowing that this doesn't spread, you know, it's a bit like frozen butter it doesn't spread, that the sowing rate to start with should actually set some expectations.
Al Absolutely. And so and again, it's worth doing the research. It's worth, you know, understanding just how powerful, because you know, one of the things with red is that once you understand it a lot, you will see very clearly. It is very much a driver of production, not a passenger. So when you start to look to invest in adding these extra legumes, which are an expensive part of the total pasture mix, you do have to really value the punch that they're going to give to your system. And as I say, you know, we've coined that phrase is that requires a driver to your pasture. It's not a passenger. And so when you're putting it in your mixtures, you know, three to four kilograms is economically a pretty good space. Really, hitting three is still quite a small amount in total, and you'd have to be quite aware that you're delivering all your seed at a good depth. You're getting a good establishment of that lower sowing rate. Four is starting to probably get in to a happy place and I have quite a lot of faith in a set of genetics like Relish that four will deliver enough plants that will last, that will create a punch. And but really a happy place for red is about that five to six kg rate. And this is the true happy place and it often is beyond most people's budgets. But this is really if you are trying to use red clover as a driver to pasture production and as we break it down into the different farm systems, you may see where the value comes from putting it in at that rate. But in general pastures, my recommendation sits depending on your confidence of establishment technique between three and four and as you start to really value it, it's moving out of that four to five to six sort of range.
Juddy And so that's in the pasture mix?
Juddy So talk to me about the other uses of this, maybe as a sole stand or as a major component of a pasture.
Al Well, because red clovers have been pretty heavily used in the sheep and beef industry, historically. Sheep and beef farmers have always valued diversity in pastures and what has happened over time, and people lose sight of the big pictures of trends and happenings, but I've actually been lucky enough to experience them and see it, is that during the economic downturns, cost cutting really does change behaviour, and it doesn't take long for that behaviour to kick in to become normalised. And one of these traits is the belief structures that, for example, red clover doesn't last. So what you see very quickly is that people have lost that sort of institutional knowledge of what red clover is. And pretty much the sheep and beef industry went through a pretty tough time in the 80s and we saw a decline in red clover usage there. But it also red went through another pretty tight period in the 2000s, and in that time a lot of red clover came out of pastures as well. And so what happens, though, is people lose sight of how productive red can be. And it was about the early 2000s, early in my career that I was working with a few farmers about using undersowing red in rape crops, and then carrying the red on as almost a pure finishing crop for a couple of years afterwards. And after four or five years of watching these sort of pastures go, we started to remember and get first-hand personal experience with just how productive, actual red clover can be.
Juddy I remember walking into a seed crop and just being blown away at how productive red clover by itself, you know, under its management actually is.
Al Well when you saw that seed crop, you got to keep remembering it requires a closing date. So before that closing date, it was probably three cuts of silage taken off it before you saw it as a seed crop. So red clover in its own right, I don't know, but I think I've seen up to about 18 tonnes of drymatter in a calendar year from a red clover by itself in the right conditions.
Juddy And I guess on top of that, think about the amount of nitrogen that's cycling.
Al Yeah, providing opportunity.
Juddy Yeah, absolutely.
Al So yeah, so the point being is that with the re sort of acknowledgement that red clover is a powerhouse in its own right, I was doing more and more pure stand work and actually moving it out of the undersown under rape to actually become its own driver of a pure stand, it was about that time you started to do quite a bit of work on the back of some of our early plantain work and those lactation trials that we were doing, focussing on dry land, lactation feeding. And that's where the pure stand work you started came in and the fact that people would never have thought that you could actually put ewes and lambs on red clover in September, early September and actually carry ewes and lambs from virtually stocking.
Juddy Yeah that was a surprise at how early we had good cover, particularly from, you know, cultivars such as Relish that we were able to drive, if not ewes, and we were able to do that, but certainly if we were lambing hoggets now, a little bit later, we had some, it was a very useful forage from that point of view. Great intake, we were driving milk production early and high in those ewes. And so a really useful, I guess it's a really useful system, maybe not for all ewes, single bearing, you know, mixed aged ewes, it's a bit overkill for them, but particularly for hoggets or for light ewes. It's a really good system in terms of driving some of that production.
Al And just getting back to exactly how powerful red can be in its own right, there's only a very few people I've ever seen been able to stock up high enough in November in those systems, not to have to put cattle in across the top to clean up or stocking rates of ewes and lambs at foot above 17 per hectare. That's used with multiples at foot. By November it's just blowing all the stocking rates out of the ground, so it's pretty impressive.
Juddy And I guess the other part of this, and I guess that's what distinguishes between other forage systems, is that with red clover, we can always put it into a bale. We can always conserve that. And so it gives a lot of flexibility around, you know, if I'm going to use it as a lambing feed, but it gets away on me, I can shut half the paddock up or a third of the paddock up and I can take that for silage at the appropriate time. And so that's a real flexibility. If we were doing that with, you know, a brassica, for example, then some of those things aren't quite as easy to wrap up.
Al I think it's called sauerkraut by the time you put it in silage. But yeah, it can be achieved, but it's nowhere near, as you know, not as familiar, yeah, and nowhere near as straightforward.
Juddy So let's go through our farming system and just touch where red clover fits so in a dairy system?
Al So we're discussing, yep, the fact that, you know, we've got the two primary ways we use it one in the pasture mix and that pasture mix can be with any grasses, any other species like lucerne, red clover can work, chicory red clover, so it doesn't have to be just grasses, but you've got it and mixtures and then you've got it as a driver of a legume based system that may last between two and three years, depending on weed grass control and weeds.
Juddy So in a dairy system, for example, the obvious one is around putting it into your pasture mix. Is there anything else that you'd use it for?
Al Yeah. Well, see, this is the thing is it's not as straightforward as that at all, actually, because the issue with the dairy pastures is rotation length and red clover does sit outside your early spring and mid-spring rotation lengths. And that's where it can put pressure on using red clover effectively inside a dairy pasture. I believe it's an element of the future, but the reality is, you know, it is in conflict to the rotation lengths that we have in the current dairy system. So if you're pushing longer rotations, red clover in a reducing nitrogen fertiliser world that we're moving towards, red clover is a bit of a powerhouse, but you must be on those longer rotations. And if it can survive through intensive grass springs and intensive grazing rotations anywhere under 20 days to get to your summer rotations, which can quite often blow out beyond 30 days, red clover can fit on a platform there. However, its happy place in a dairy system is the runoffs and in the runoffs, it is a powerhouse of silage production. It can definitely support a lower nitrogen use on a runoff based system for silage because it's bringing its own nitrogen, supporting its own total drymatter production and volume. So it really is powering those runoffs.
Juddy And in sheep and beef?
Al Sheep and beef, well, general pasture it is that legume and sheep and beef rotations it must be able to tolerate a stocking phase. And that's where Relish's evolution under our breeding under intensive grazing in grass competition really fits and it does fit those set stocking phases. But in a sheep and beef system, you do roll out into bigger, longer rotations, and that's when red comes into its own. I do see it as a broadcast plant into high rainfall, hill country and hill country development, definitely. And that's the history of cow grass, which is red clover in that landscape. But really where it excels is in those strategic finishing environments where you may not have to want to run multiple years of, you know, single brassica cropping. You may want to have a paddock down for up to three years, where it's delivering a cropping rotation for three years, for finishing predominantly lambs and young stock and possibly putting weight on ewes prior to tupping.
Juddy Alright Al, I think we've got it there. I've got to go check some cows...
Al If you must. Yeah, I just like to summarise, though, before you do though Glenn. Looking at it as a species, it's a really important species to New Zealand agriculture, particularly now as nitrogen limits are implying another legume that is home in our pastures. And remember it is, red clover is the driver it's not the passenger. And the real key to this is remembering just how productive this plant can be and how many ways it can fit in. Its tolerance to clover root weevil creates some resilience in environments where we can still see clever root weevil sweep across the landscape. Its ability, with the new genetics such as Relish, survive under intensive grass pressure and grazing, fitting into the cropping systems and the pasture systems. We've already discussed the animal traits of fast breakdown, drymatter production, we also leave this podcast with the awareness that it can be mismanaged and it can be underwhelming quality if you let the stem build up too long. So hitting the targets for what you're wanting to achieve with it are important and we've become aware of some of those animal health issues. It can fit into a lot of systems which we haven't mentioned today, such as deer finishing, sheep milk production. All of these systems are a place where red clover will have a very strong fit. So, Glenn, I think that probably summarises those key traits that we've discussed through this.
Juddy Righto, thanks Al.
Al Thanks Juddy.
Juddy See you next time.
Al See ya.