What Irish farmers need to know about multi-species swards

Wednesday 27.05.2020 , events , news

There is growing interest in multi-species pasture. Here at Germinal, we have probably taken more queries on them this year to date than in the last two years combined.

But what is a multi-species sward? What are the benefits? And how can you grow a multi-species sward? Here is a quick Q&A on the most popular questions surrounding multi-species grass seed.

What is a multi-species sward?

The definition of multi-species is a mixture composed of two or more species. However, it is widely accepted that perennial ryegrass and white clover alone do not count.

For that reason, we mostly concentrate on multi-species in their most common form; consisting of herbs and legumes used in a multi-species grazing mix.

What are the benefits of including several species in my grassland?

Different grass species bring different benefits to the sward. Some will be nitrogen-fixing, while others will be deep rooting, and so, bring more minerals up from lower down in the soil.

Deeper rooting species have the potential to be more resilient in drought conditions. Some species such as chicory have anecdotal evidence of anthelmintic benefits and reduce worm counts in lambs.

From a biodiversity perspective, the more species present in a sward, the greater potential benefit to insect populations.

What are the negatives of multi-species grazing?

One of the main reasons we do not have greater uptake of multi-species grass seed at farm level, is the limitation of weed control options.

If you have herbs such as plantain, chicory or others, then you cannot spray for weeds or they will also be killed. Herbs tend to be less persistent than perennial ryegrass or white clover in a mixture; generally with a lifespan of three to five years.

What type of system does multi-species best fit?

There has been a lot of research into multi-species swards in recent years, and more work is ongoing. For now, it seems they tend to be more suitable to sheep systems or less intensive cattle systems.

How long will they last in my field?

This will be influenced by both management, soil fertility and soil type. Generally, chicory and plantain will survive for 3-5 years.

How should I establish multi-species rotational grazing?

The easiest way to establish a multi-species sward is as part of a full reseed. Just remember you cannot use any weed spray post sowing, so control your reseeds in advance. Ideally, sow in April to early August.

The table below indicates the main pros and cons of each of the individual species and the appropriate inclusion rate in a mixture.

Species

Variety

Inclusion rate in a multi-species sward per acre

Benefits

Cons

Suited to

Expected persistency^

White Clover

AberHerald

AberAce

1-1.5 kg

N fixing legume

Improves animal performance

High yielding in grass mixtures

High digestibility

Low spring growth

Risk of bloat when at high % in sward

Limited weed control

Grazing

5+ years

Red Clover

AberClaret

4 kg

N fixing legume

High protein

High yielding

Will not tolerate tight grazing

Persistency

Limited weed control

Silage

3-5 years

Plantain

Tonic

0.75 kg

High mineral content

Palatable

Deep rooting

No weed control options

Avoid grazing below 5 cm

Grazing in wet weather can reduce persistency

Rotational grazing

5 Years

Chicory

Puna II

0.75 kg

High mineral content

Good drought tolerance

Anthelmintic properties

No weed control options

Prefers well-drained dry soils

Avoid hard grazing in wet conditions

Rotational grazing

3-5 years

Sainfoin

 

5 kg/acre

N fixing legume

Palatable

Anthelmintic properties

Deep rooting

No weed control options

Slow to establish

Avoid hard grazing

Hay or silage

3-5 years

Multi-species swards advice

At Germinal, our grassland experts are here to answer any questions for Irish farmers. Please reach out if you have any questions regarding multi-species grass seed or any other pasture needs.

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