Late spring management to increase sub clover content

// Feed Planning and Strategies

Late spring is good time for farmers to assess how much subterranean clover is in their pastures and to actively manage the legume to encourage seed-set.

image of sub clover in hand

Subterranean (sub) clover, which thrives in well-drained, sunny, low rainfall areas, has proved transformative on many east country hill country farms throughout New Zealand, giving farmers the ability to drive high pre-weaning growth rates.

This allows farmers to maximise their weaning draft and partition feed back into ewes to build body condition going into the following autumn’s mating.

Sub clover flowers are apparent in pastures at this time of the year and as a rule of thumb, if there is more than one clover plant every second step when walking uphill, then the correct management will increase the population.

If there is less than this, then farmers should consider over-sowing with sub clover next autumn.

Farmers wanting to build the sub clover content in their pastures through management should avoid grazing targeted areas below 1200 kg DM/ha and then allow the sub clover plants to set-seed by shutting sheep out of the area for a couple of weeks at least.

After spelling, the area should be grazed with cattle to limit grass-seed production. It is important not to use sheep as they will actively seek out sub clover runners, reducing seed production.

Over summer, the area can be grazed as normal with the aim of reducing pasture covers to 700kg DM/ha by the end of February.

This open pasture will aid sub clover seed germination.

After sufficient autumn rain, sub clover seedlings will appear and the area should be closed off to stock until the sub clover plants reach the trifoliate (3) leaf stage.

Over late autumn and early winter, it should only be grazed by cattle until the plants are well established.

It can then be used in late winter and spring as a valuable, high-quality feed for lambing ewes, and as sub clover fixes nitrogen, the plant will also increase the palatability of companion grasses.

Find out more

For more information about managing to encourage sub clover, see our Grazing management to encourage sub-clover dryland pastures factsheet (PDF, 397 KB)