We grew up believing that clover caused bloat, and there was no substitute for horsepower when it came to Bathurst, with the way to increased horsepower being a bigger engine and more fuel down its throat.

I remember an experienced farmer telling me that adding potash to super was like increasing the octane rating of petrol, and more potash did indeed appear to grow more clover but the incidence and severity of bloat also increased.

So with good reason ­­we believed that clover caused bloat, but just as smaller engine cars have been faster around Mt Panorama than the V8s there’s an increasing awareness that outstanding clover growth from early spring to late autumn is available without bloat being a problem.

Bloat is a result of the gut not working properly resulting in a build-up of gas that reduces intake of feed and production; and in severe cases animals die, with death often occurring quickly and unpredictably.

In 1981 Dr. Max Turner of Massey University linked bloat with a sodium potassium imbalance, with a possible link between the incidence of bloat and the increase in application of potassium fertiliser.  Our experience over 30 years is that when animals are showing signs of bloat having salt available to them appears to lessen the severity.

Red clover and lucerne are both classed as a Natrophobes (Dominion Salt Bulletin 3), plants that naturally have low concentrations of sodium in their leaf tissue, while white clover is classed as a Natrophile, a plant that contains relatively high levels of sodium in its tissue and listed above ryegrasses, so there’s likely to be another factor.

Farmer experience is that animals with a full gut entering a fresh break of feed containing a high percentage of clover are much less likely to suffer from bloat than those that have not grazed for a couple of hours prior.

In 2006 independent measures from intensive dairy properties growing significantly more total pasture annually than district average, showed pastures on these farms to contain on average double the amount of clover over the four months of September to December, yet then, as in subsequent seasons the incidence of bloat was very low.

The common factor with the high clover content properties measured in 2006 was the use of CalciZest and DoloZest based soil nutrient programmes.  Reports from a steadily increasing number of properties using these programmes now also indicate that bloat is not considered a problem by their operators.

An increase in plant available calcium is a key requirement for the persistence of large leafed long stemmed clover.  CalciZest, a lime based product containing a selected range of live fungi and bacteria stimulates the growth of clover that is largely resistant to flea and weevil attack.

At optimum grazing time, clovers on these properties are largely solid stemmed.  This suggests that the amount of potassium able to rapidly enter the plant is reduced and along with less bloat fully fed animals grazing these pastures are capable of producing close to their liveweight in milk solids annually.

For more information contact Peter on 0800 436 566.

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