Protein-rich red clover is helping a Dyfi Valley livestock farm achieve a total cost of production of less than £3/kg deadweight in its lambs.
Dafydd and Glenys Parry Jones have been farming organically at Maesllwyni since 2001, running a flock of 700 Texel and Aberfield cross ewes and 60 Hereford cross cattle on the upland holding near Machynlleth.
Red clover has been a key component in their system since then, and increasingly so – in the last three years cattle have been fattened solely on it and lambs spend their last two weeks before slaughter grazing these leys.
By continually fixing nitrogen and releasing it when grazed and cut, red clover is not only an important source of feed for the livestock at Maesllwyni but for soil health and nutrition too.
At a recent Farming Connect open day at the farm, Mr Jones shared the knowledge he has gained from two decades of growing and feeding the crop.
Twenty hectares are grown within a rotation on 60ha of silage ground where fields are reseeded every 11 years. By favouring varieties including AberChianti and AberClaret, leys have a five year longevity if looked after, including by not grazing in the winter.
The crop is established in May after ploughing. The farm’s top soil layer is shallow therefore only the top 10cm are cultivated.
Oats, barley, peas and vetches are incorporated in the mix. “The arable mix cleans the field up and creates a canopy to keep the weeds down,’’ said Mr Jones.
The silage is mainly fed to pregnant ewes in the last two weeks before lambing.
Red clover seed is established at a depth of just 5mm and the arable silage at 7.5cm to 10cm.
“We just let the arable seed sit on top of the furrows and find that it works fine,’’ said Mr Jones.
Establishment had previously been in July but by getting the seed into the ground in May it gives red clover an advantage in that first year.
“The clover really starts to take off in the middle of the summer,’’ said Mr Jones.
The soil is chain harrowed and rolled after seeding. A bulky first cut is taken in June, the forage wilted for 24 hours, and a second, higher quality cut at the beginning of August, with 48-hour wilting.
“We cut the red clover at a young stage for silaging, to prevent the stem becoming unpalatable for sheep,’’ Mr Jones explains.
The first cut is clamped and the second preserved as big bales. A plastic conditioner is used on the mower to decrease leaf damage.
At over 18 per cent protein, it is a protein-rich crop therefore it is established with companion grasses to provide fibre and energy to help retain that protein in the rumen for longer.