Changes in pasture management allowing existing subterranean clover plants to flourish is helping realise the productive potential of Wairoa’s Waiau Station.
Dave Read who, along with his wife Judy Bogaard, owns the 1200ha hill country farm, says since adopting management practices to allow subterranean (sub) clover to flourish they have been able to achieve spring growth rates in yearling cattle of up to 1kg/day – on very steep hill country.
While the management changes have only been focused on a small part of the farm, these growth rates have highlighted the power of the early-season legume and given the couple impetus to encourage existing sub clover on other parts of the property. They are also trialling new varieties as they aim to provide high-quality spring feed for their sheep and beef cattle.
Running around 10,000 stock units with a 60:40 cattle to sheep ratio, the farm is already performing well with lambing percentages of around 150%. Ultimately, the legumes will be used to drive lactation and spring growth rates in both sheep and cattle.
Waiau Station is all class six and seven country – with virtually no flat land. Dave says while the farm receives an annual rainfall of 13-1400mm, run-off from heavy rain means the steepest slopes only receive around 600mm effective. On the north facing slopes this lack of moisture, coupled with high moisture losses, limits pasture production so the steepest, driest portion of the farm is only growing rough native grasses and lacks clover.
While he acknowledges that they will never to be able to grow many improved pasture species on these areas, they can grow sub clover, and couple is aiming to build coverage of this plant through management of existing species and augmentation with new varieties.
The resident species, predominately Mt Barker, is there thanks to the over-sowing programmes carried out over large areas of New Zealand hill country back in the 1960s and 70s. However, the intensive sheep grazing policies of subsequent decades did not allow the plants to flourish.
Dave says he had noticed this small hairy clover struggling away in the sward every spring, but it was agricultural consultant Dr Gavin Sheath who identified it as sub clover and outlined both its productive potential and specific management requirements.
Sub4Spring project and field day
More recently, Dave and Judy have been working with Lincoln University’s Professor Derrick Moot through the Sustainable Farming Fund’s Sub 4 Spring project, as they adopt management practices that will increase the legume content of their hill country pastures.
The aim of the three-year project, which involves seven trial sites from South Canterbury to Wairoa, is to develop a management package for the clover specific to New Zealand farming systems.
Moot says as all sub clover seed is imported, all the management information and cultivar descriptions are Australian based.
Sub clover’s popularity is growing as farmers appreciate the feed value of the nitrogen-fixing legume, its ability to withstand dry conditions and its early season activity.
Understanding factors such the plant’s ability to tolerate frost, flowering times, hardseededness, establishment methods will give farmers the ability to better manage and utilise the forage.
Professor Derrick Moot will be discussing sub clover management, establishment and the value of nitrogen at a field day on Waiau Station on November 9th 2016.