3 .May.2022

Clover - Red or White?

Both can be highly beneficial to a grass mixture, and both have different benefits when included in grassland.

With fertiliser prices at an all-time high reaching £1000/Tn, it is understandable that farmers are interested in more cost-efficient production especially through a natural source such as Clover.

Including clover into your grassland management can help utilise the soil conditioning, nitrogen fixation and extra home-grown forage potential. 
What are the main differences of white clover compared to Red clover?

White clover can be small, medium or large in leaf size and is stoloniferous so can spread through a sward and is capable of long term, sustained performance. Protein levels are similar to Red Clover but annual yields are lower and there is no risk over oestrogen.

SMALL LEAVED are best for intensive sheep grazing due to their creeping growth habit and extreme persistence. They are also useful fertility aids to companion crops as they do not have excess biomass or a tendency to take over. Rivendel is a particularly good small leaved White Clover.

MEDIUM LEAVED are useful for either cutting or grazing and are a mainstay in grazing mixtures. Buddy is a leading variety in this segment.

LARGE LEAVED types are higher yielding so are suitable for cutting and cattle grazing leys. Usually, these types are less hardy and persistent but Dublin and Brianna have incredibly good persistence, yield and performance and so feature strongly in our White clover blends. 

Benefits of White clover

White clover is primarily used for grazing in mixtures with grass. As a forage, white clover is highly digestible with crude protein content averaging over 20%. But the most significant benefit of white clover is its ability to fix N from the atmosphere for use by neighbouring grasses in the sward.

The use of white clover in grass mixtures has the potential to offset up to 150kg N/ha per year in inorganic N fertiliser. With fertiliser prices increasing all the time, the incorporation of white clover into grass swards has the potential to greatly reduce the reliance on inorganic N fertiliser and increase the financial and environmental sustainability for the farmer.

For maximum benefit a sward white clover content of 20-30% is required

The Benefits of White Clover in the Sward at 20-30%

  • +800kg DM/ha
  • Opportunity to reduce N fertiliser
  • Dry matter intake +1.5kg/cow per day
  • Milk solids +30kg MS/cow per year


Establishing and Managing White Clover in the Sward  

Establishing white clover takes time and some specific management. DLF recommends targeting up to 30% of the farm at a time in which to establish white clover. Achieving good white clover content across the farm should be a medium-term goal and should be carried out over a number of years.

A full reseed is the most reliable method of establishing white clover. However, as the options for post-emergence treatment become more limited, many farmers are choosing to over-sow white clover into existing swards.

No matter what sowing method is used the 4 key principles of successful establishment and management of white clover should always be considered.

4 Key Principles of Sowing White Clover


Ensure adequate soil P, K and pH status
Sow seed no more than 1cm deep
Roll to ensure soil-seed contact


Sow when soil is warm (+10°C), and there is some moisture – ideally April to May


Over-sow at a rate of 2 – 2.5kg/acre
Use small and medium-leaf varieties for grazing and large-leaf for cutting. See mixtures below


Over-sow after a tight grazing or silage cut so light can stimulate seedling growth
After sowing, graze at ~1,100kg DM/ha for the following 3 rotations to establish adequate white clover content

8 Steps to Successfully Over-sow White Clover

  1. Select a paddock with good soil fertility and an open sward to allow soil-seed contact
  2. Broadcast or direct-drill seed at a rate of 2 – 2.5kg/acre after tight grazing or a silage cut
    1. If broadcasting, sow ‘twice’ – half rate down, half rate across the paddock
    2. Sow seed no more than 1cm deep if drilling
  3. Over-sowing should take place between April and June, ideally
  4. Roll after sowing to ensure seed soil contact. This will improve germination rates
  5. Allow light down to establishing seedlings and reduce grass competition by grazing ~10 days after sowing. Watery slurry may be applied at this stage
  6. Continue to graze at low covers (~1,100kg DM/ha) for the following 3 rotations using half rates of N after each grazing
  7. Once white clover is established, continue to graze maximum 1,600kg DM/ha covers down to 4cm applying N tactically 
  8. Where white clover content is >20% N fertiliser can be significantly reduced from May onwards

Grazing Management of White Clover

  • White clover should be managed with the aim of maintaining a sward clover content of 20-30%
  • Pre-grazing covers should be ~1,400kg DM/ha and no more than 1,600kg DM/ha
  • Graze down to 4cm to allow light to reach the clover stolons at the base of the sward
  • Early spring grazing will allow light into the sward and stimulate growth
  • Graze every 18-21 days throughout summer
  • Final grazing should be left until later in the autumn. This will reduce high accumulations of grass over winter that can smother clover plants
  • Nitrogen fertiliser application on high clover content swards should be reduced to achieve the full benefit of white clover and prolong persistence

 Tips to Avoid Bloat

  • Introduce animals to high clover swards slowly
  • Make sure animals are full entering high clover sward
  • Do not graze clover with a heavy dew
  • The use of bloat oil in water troughs will reduce the risk of bloat

Red Clover 

Red clover can produce high yields of highly digestible, high protein silage without the need for any inorganic Nitrogen fertiliser. Like white clover it can fix its own Nitrogen via bacteria located on root nodules. This can be worth up 200kg N/ha per year. Red clover has an erect growth habit and a strong taproot that leads to strong summer growth and a degree of drought tolerance. Due to its upright growth habit and high summer yields red clover is better suited to cutting than grazing.

Red Clover is usually used in 3-year leys where it’s yields over that period can average out at 13 tonnes of dry matter per hectare. Red Clover is assailed by eelworm and Sclerotinia (Clover Rot), so we select varieties that are more tolerant of these ailments and look to the benefit of a blend of top varieties for optimum performance.

Red Clover varies from 16-18% protein so is fantastic for fattening animals, but oestrogen levels mean care needs to be taken when grazing where fecundity is paramount. A long, penetrating tap root offers excellent drought tolerance, recovery of deeper soil minerals and nutrients and is an excellent soil conditioner. 

Benefits of Red Clover

  • Can produce between 12- and 16-tons DM/ha when grown with perennial ryegrass
  • Annual N fixation of 150-200kg N/ha is possible from swards with a high red clover content
  • High crude protein content of 16-20%
  • Highly palatable leading to increased animal intake and performance
  • Deep tap root makes red clover relatively drought tolerant

Establishing and Managing Red Clover    

  • Red clover requires high soil fertility for maximum production. Index 3 for P and K and soil pH 6.0-6.5 is desirable
  • Sow red clover from April to July when soil temperatures are above 10°C
  • Red clover is best sown in a mixture with perennial ryegrass and some white clover. A typical seed rate for a clover dominant sward would be 3kg/acre of red clover, 9kg/acre perennial ryegrass and 1kg/acre white clover
  • Ensure a fine, firm seedbed and roll before and after shallow sowing <1cm deep
  • In the establishment year, red clover should be allowed to flower before the first silage harvest to ensure strong root establishment
  • A typical cutting strategy for red clover would be to harvest first cut in mid-late May with the second, third and fourth cuts at 6-8 week intervals thereafter
  • The final cut should be taken no later than October
  • Silage crops should be cut no lower than 7cm
  • Crops can be autumn grazed in suitable conditions to leave an over-winter cover of 6cm
  • Avoid cutting in wet weather
  • Red clover is a low sugar, low DM crop so wilt for 24-48 hours to achieve 25-35% DM to aid preservation
  • Do not use a conditioner mower and avoid excessive handling of the crop to reduce leaf loss
  • To prolong persistence red clover should be allowed to flower once every year

Slurry and FYM can be applied throughout the year to replenish P and K

Red Clover Varieties

MAGELLAN Excellent performance especially in the second harvest year with high protein content and persistency.

AMOS An incredibly vigorous variety with excellent all-round performance of yield, persistency, and protein content.

SANGRIA Excellent yields particularly in the spring coupled with good disease resistance and persistence.