'Clover catches up in the second half of the season'

White and red clover has been a fixed ingredient in the ration of dairy farmer Anton van der Hoog from Enspijk for years. “The main reasons I sow clover are for nitrogen fixation and the improved palatability". The second half of the season is his best period for the bank balance. “The plants I cut are then placed fresh in front of the feed fence. I’ve noticed that cows select the clover first, because it tastes better. During this period, they eat around 1 kg more of dry matter. The protein content in the milk rises, and yields increase by 10 percent during this time".

Fresh green crop and less rust thanks to the clover

Van der Hoog has 160 dairy cows, 80 young cattle and 96 hectares of land, of which 18 hectares are used to grow maize. He grazes his cows on the 45 hectare plot of pasture around the farm. He uses his separate fields to grow grass. He has been sowing clover for years. White clover grows on the plots where he grazes his cows. White clover and red clover grow on the separate fields where he grows grass. “I ensile the first and second cut. I’ve noticed that the grass displaces the clover in the spring, so the clover doesn’t play a major role at that stage. In the second half of the season, however, the clover recovers rapidly. I suffer less problems with rust in the plot when this happens, and the nitrogen fixation keeps the grass fresher, so I place this grass fresh at the feed fence". Van der Hoog’s year-round production is 9,000 litres, with 4.5% fat and 3.5% protein. 


Nitrogen binding

The main function of the white clover in the pasture fields is to fix nitrogen. “We carried out some tests with clover a few years ago in collaboration with PPP Agro Advies. We grazed some cows on a plot with clover, and others on a plot with no clover. Everything else was the same. It turned out that it doesn’t really affect the cows at all. We saw no substantial differences in the amount they ate or yields. For example, they didn't select the clover first.  However, I still think it's worth sowing clover. I don’t need to apply so much chemical fertiliser thanks to the nitrogen fixation".

The main reasons I sow clover are for nitrogen fixation and the improved palatability

Anton van der Hoog
Dairy farmer

Constant adjustments

Clover in the ration is still seen as a nuisance by many dairy farmers. One common complaint is that it isn’t easy to keep control of things. Van der Hoog sees things differently. “It’s true that it’s difficult to feed in a controlled manner, but that’s also the case with pure grass. You never know exactly how much protein your animals are eating. You simply have to constantly adjust the ration. If you have a lot of grass growth, but 20 mm of rain suddenly falls, you know that the urea level will increase. You have to take that into account".


Paying attention to what’s going on in the soil is another recurring subject for Van der Hoog. “We farm on heavy clay here, which requires a specific approach. Clover is sensitive to grazing, so you have to keep an eye on this. Sometimes, there’s a lot of clover, but some years you wonder where it’s all gone. It’s very important to have your grass stock in order, but that’s also true if you don’t feed clover. For example, we have to make sure that we don't cut the land too drastically, because that would cause the protein content to drop".

The pH of his soil is good. He doesn’t need to apply much lime to achieve the right pH value for his grass clover. He thinks the only drawback is that red clover is a 3-year crop. “Our soil is not suitable for overseeding. We’d have to consult with a contractor to find a good solution for this”.

A week ago, in mid-June, he cut his land for the second time. It contained a lot of red clover. “When I say a lot of clover, I mean about 30% of the plot. Despite what you often hear, it doesn’t take over completely".

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