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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Spring gains with clover and herb mixes

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Spring is a critical time for farmers. Lambs and calves are born which means pasture and crops need to be primed for optimal growth and support for milking mothers.

A popular crop that delivers the higher feed nutrition needed, are the clover and herb mixes.

Clover and herb mixes are ideal for fattening lambs and increasing milk production for mothers, who need to not only feed their offspring but keep themselves at a healthy weight. Both mixes provide a higher quality feed than pasture, and being a semi-perennial crop last up to 2-3 years, so you can multi-graze, ultimately giving you longer term value than a brassica crop and more flexibility than a perennial pasture that lasts longer.

The ease of management is also a bonus as there are fewer insects that can damage the crop.

A common misconception farmers have is that you can plant the crop straight away. Be aware of the prep that goes into a clover and herb crop. Unfortunately you can’t go straight from old pasture to a clover and herb mix because you end up with a lot of weeds and an expensive time consuming crop that doesn’t give you the same nutrient value.

To get the most out of a clover and herb mix, you need to plant a short rotation crop first to clean the seed bed. The cultivation and spraying out involved in planting kale or swedes for winter or rape or turnips for summer gives you a good clean soil bed that your clover and herb mix will thrive in. Also the higher stocking rate on a short rotation crop will likely mean your nutrient levels will be at optimum for the clover and herb mix to strike.

When picking a herb to go with your clover, both plantain and chicory are great options that suit different climates.

Chicory is one of the highest nutritional forages you can plant with an ME (metabolisable energy) ranging from 12 to 13. It grows in summer and is relatively dormant in winter, all you have to watch out for is the 2nd summer when it will try to go to seed, grazing and/or mowing at certain times will minimise the impact of this.

Plantain has similar growth habits to ryegrass, with autumn and spring growth. It grows tall and upright giving the clover a lot of space to express itself, with an ME ranging from 11 to 12. East coast farmers in the North Island benefit from plantain growth in the winter, which is their prime growing season.

The returns on doing it right?
Everyone wants the highest return they can get for their stock, and at lambing and calving a high performing high ME crop can be the difference from selling store to being able to finish stock on farm. I can’t emphasise enough that it starts with making sure you’re getting good advice and giving yourself enough lead in time, I suggest start planning 10 months ahead.