Preparing hill blocks for spring clover production

Hill country sheep farmers should be identifying and strategically grazing their north and west-facing lambing blocks now to maximise production off these areas in spring.
Monday, 11 February 2019

This is according to Lincoln University’s Professor Derrick Moot who says rather than try and control feed quality over the whole farm (after what has been a particularly growthy spring and summer) farmers should be targeting their lambing blocks now to ensure they have a bank of high-quality pasture for ewes in early spring.

Annual clovers, particularly subterranean (sub) clover, are endemic in many hill country areas and favour the typically drier and more open north and west-facing blocks.

Managing pastures now to favour clover production in these blocks will pay dividends in spring when the legumes will drive pasture quality, lactation and pre-weaning growth rates.

After Body Condition Scoring ewes – which should be done at least six weeks out from mating – Derrick recommends farmers preferentially feed their lighter-condition (below BCS 3) ewes by giving them first pick of these blocks in a short grazing rotation.

These ewes will selectively graze the good quality grasses at the base of the sward, but should be moved on after two to three days so they are not forced to eat poor quality pasture.

Heavy condition ewes (BCS 3 and over) or cows and calves can then be used to clean up the rank feed and open up the pastures to allow the annual clovers, particularly sub clover, to thrive.

Clovers cannot compete for light and moisture with long grass and clover seedlings that germinate after autumn rain will die if they are smothered, leaving farmers to lamb ewes on poor quality feed.

Derrick says the blocks don’t need to be completely grazed out to allow the clovers to grow, a small amount of litter is acceptable as it affords the seedlings some protection and creates a micro-climate which favours seedling survival.

False clover strikes can occur after rain in January or February but the resulting seedlings typically die due to heat.

Derrick says when this happens it is usually only 10 per cent of the seed bank and the majority of seed will strike in March and April, when the climate is more conducive to seedling survival.

Feed quality is an issue in many parts of the country due to a wet spring and summer, but Derrick says this won’t matter as long as some areas of the farm have been targeted to create the quality pasture needed in spring.

The rest can be cleaned up over winter.

He recommends farmers looking to increase the quantity of legumes in their hill country pastures seek management advice from those with experience in managing for clover production in a range of seasons such as David and Jo Grigg who farm Tempello, a hill country farm in Blenheim.

Find out more

For more information about managing for sub clover go to: https://beeflambnz.com/search?term=Subterranean+clover

Watch an interview with Derrick Moot and David and Jo Grigg at FarmSmart 2017:
https://beeflambnz.com/knowledge-hub/video/david-and-jo-grigg-and-derrick-moot-sub-clover-farming-system