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Unleash your sub‑clover’s super powers

17 March 2020

The ‘superhero’ of the southern feedbase, subterranean clover (subclover) has huge potential to boost livestock production – when it’s managed well.

The good news is, this isn’t hard, according to Cam Nicholson of Nicon Rural Consulting, who partnered with Southern Farming Systems (SFS) to develop MLA‑funded feedbase management tools for producers.

Not all heroes wear capes

Here’s why sub-clover deserves its superhero status:

  • It maintains its high feed quality throughout the growing season.
  • If well nodulated, it fixes nitrogen that can be used by grasses and other broadleaf plants.
  • A tonne of sub‑clover dry matter (DM) can produce up to 25kg of nitrogen/ha/year.
  • In the vegetative stage, the green material is highly digestible, exceeding 75%, with correspondingly high energy contents above 11 MJ ME (megajoules of metabolisable energy)/kg DM and around 30% protein.
  • Even though the pasture declines in digestibility as it dries off, it still maintains a high crude protein content.
  • The seed and burr of sub‑clover is also high in protein.

“Understanding sub‑clover’s lifecycle and ensuring the right grazing strategies to support good seed set and plant renewal will guarantee highly productive sub‑clover pastures,” Cam said.

“It’s not hard – producers just need to measure and monitor their pastures and stock according to the lifecycle stage.”

Cam and SFS research officers Lisa Miller and Jess Brogden have developed a series of technical fact sheets on establishing, maintaining and utilising sub‑clover.

Lisa said it’s crucial – particularly in existing pastures – to ensure plants set seed and to optimise conditions for seed to successfully germinate.

“Under favourable management, the germination of sub‑clover can be greatly increased,” she said.

“A single sub-clover plant can be manipulated to produce more than 100 seeds.”

Cam said maximising seed set begins in winter, with the aim of maximising leaf production through winter and early spring to maximise potential flowering.

“Contrary to what many may think, maximum sub‑clover leaf production is achieved by frequent heavy grazing rather than light grazing and long periods of spelling,” he said.

“When sunlight reaches the crown of the sub‑clover plant it stimulates leaf production, whereas shading reduces leaf production.

“Sub‑clover’s prostrate growth means the plant is well adapted to frequent heavy grazing, but does make it susceptible to shading, particularly by upright grasses.”