Beef and lamb benefits found in multi-species grazing trials

Monday 25.04.2022 , News

Research from Germinal Horizon has indicated the benefits of multi-species to silage and milk production. New research now extends those gains to beef and lamb production, too.

Committed to research and innovation and helping the farming industry understand more about grassland management, Germinal is supporting researchers undertaking multi-species grazing trials at University College Dublin’s (UCD) Lyons Farm.

Multi-species found to improve beef performance in year two

Beginning in 2019, researchers established three swards with a stocking density of 2.5 livestock units per hectare. These swards comprised a monoculture of perennial ryegrass, a perennial ryegrass and white clover mix, and a multi-species mix of perennial ryegrass, Timothy, clover, plantain and chicory.

Each year a new group of animals was introduced and assigned to one of the three treatments, which they remained on through to slaughter. At housing, they were offered forage conserved from within their own treatment.

Compared to the steers grazing the grass only treatment, animals on multi-species had a 20% higher growth rate during their second year at pasture. Animals which began the trial in 2020, remained on their treatment for 2 years and those on the multispecies sward gained, on average 80 kg more than those animals on the grass only treatments.

Multi-species silage vs. perennial ryegrass silage

It is widely accepted perennial ryegrass is a fundamental part of silage production. However, researchers wanted to see whether species diversity would affect silage quality. “The third cohort of cattle, added in 2021, was housed from November 2021 until turnout in March 2022,” explained Professor Tommy Boland from UCD.

“We found daily liveweight gain indoors was 0.64 kg for perennial ryegrass silage and 0.89 kg for the multi-species silage group – a 39% increase in housed daily liveweight gain.

“These results are exciting for animal production, and I would also stress a need to take a holistic view of multi-species use. It’s not just about the animal performance; multi-species offer much more for soil health, water infiltration and biodiversity.”

Lambs also benefit from multi-species grazing

Researchers also studied the effect of multi-species swards on lamb performance. They established four swards, ranging from a nine-species mix to a monoculture of perennial ryegrass.

“Anytime we used a sward more complex than a monoculture, we saw lamb performance benefits,” explains Professor Boland. “And these benefits were carried through to the point of slaughter.”

Multi-species swards saw performance improvements of higher liveweight gains, reduced finishing times and, through using faecal egg counts, a 50% reduction in anthelmintic use.

“It’s exciting to be able to say positively that offering animals swards consisting of more than a single species improves their performance. It isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ for all the challenges on-farm, but I’m confident in saying multi-species swards form part of a farmer’s toolbox for the future,” concludes Professor Boland.

For more detailed information on the research, methodology and findings, watch the webinar now on the Germinal Knowledge Hub.