How to grow multi-species swards

What are multi-species swards?

Multi-species swards are composed of three or more species. Swards commonly include grasses such as Perennial ryegrass and Timothy, herbs such as plantain and chicory, and legumes such as red and white clover. Multi-species swards provide multiple sources of protein, energy and minerals for grazing livestock.

The different species have complementary growth habits and sward performance is usually better than swards of single species, each component bringing specific advantages.

The benefits of multi-species swards

  • Superior sward performance through complementary plant species
  • Improved soil structure, biodiversity and fertility
  • Increased drought tolerance
  • Lower requirement for artificial nitrogen
  • High-quality feed through the summer livestock
  • Ideal for sheep, cattle and dairy systems
  • Reduced effect of internal parasites in livestock

Which species should I include?

Choose a multi-species mixture with at least one grass, legume and herb. Germinal Multi-Species Mixture contains the following species and is designed to deliver high-quality forage across a range of soil types and farm systems.

TypeSpeciesBenefitsExpected persistency (years)Grazing suitability
GrassPerennial RyegrassGood spring and autumn growth; high quality10++++++
TimothySuited to colder soils, palatable10+++++
CocksfootSuits dry soils, deep rooting 

++

Palatability declines with infrequent grazing

LegumeWhite Clover

Can fix over 150kg N/ha/year

High quality, high protein

5++++++
Red CloverHigh yielding, high quality, high protein Can fix over 150kg N/ha/year,3+++++
Alsike CloverA low growing clover, more tolerant of wet and acidic soils than white clover3-4++++
Birdsfoot Trefoil

Can fix over 150kg N/ha/year

High quality, high protein

2-3++
     
HerbPlantainGood early season growth, palatable, coarse root structure, medium root depth, high in minerals4-5+++++
ChicoryDrought tolerance, deep tap root, anthelmintic properties, high in minerals2-3+++++
SainfoinPalatable, good drought tolerance, anthelmintic, not suited to heavy grazing3-5++
Salad BurnetDeep rooting, drought tolerant3-4

++

difficult to establish

YarrowDeep rooting, drought tolerant3-4

++

difficult to establish

Sheeps ParsleyPerennial, taproot for good drought tolerance, acts as a soil conditioner3-4

++

difficult to establish

Sowing multi-species

  • A multi-species sward is best established as part of a full reseed. The small seeds of some species struggle to establish in an existing sward, making them unsuitable for oversowing
  • These swards also work well where they are sown alongside perennial ryegrass swards
  • Slower to produce herbage in spring than pure swards of perennial ryegrass, multi-species reach peak yield during the main grazing season and are more resilient to dry conditions in the summer
  • Ideally, sow in late April or May but can be sown until mid-August. Early sowing allows better establishment before the winter, which is important for root development
  • Control weeds before sowing as there are no options for spraying after it is sown. Avoid sowing in fields with a history of weed problems
  • Using a stale seedbed may reduce the weed burden on the subsequent sward. However, a good multi-species sward that establishes quickly will generally outcompete most weeds, hence good soil fertility and correct sowing time are important
  • Choose fertile fields with pH 6.3 or above, P & K index 3

Establishing multi-species

  • Spray off old sward and remove thrash prior to cultivation
  • Apply lime as indicated by soil test results to help break down the old sward
  • Cultivate and roll to create a fine and firm seedbed
  • Sow at the recommended rate per acre, no deeper than 5-10 mm, and roll well after sowing. Good soil-to-seed contact is essential for quick and successful establishment
  • Apply three bags of 10:10:20
  • Monitor new sward for pests (e.g. Slugs)
  • Graze when plants withstand the pull test and when plantain has six true leaves, chicory seven true leaves per plant (approximately eight weeks after sowing)

Multi-species grazing management

  • Rotationally graze for best results (e.g. graze 1-3 days, rest 25-30 days)
  • Target post-grazing residual of 6cm
  • Avoid hard grazing or grazing under poor ground conditions to protect the herbs and red clover from damage and potential loss of productivity and persistency
  • Maintain adequate P & K indices. An application of nitrogen in spring may help kickstart growth before clover becomes active in May. Additional nitrogen shouldn’t be necessary during the main growing season if the sward contains a good proportion of legumes/clovers

Will multispecies supply adequate herbage in the spring on farms with high SR?

Multi-species leys will be a bit slower to produce herbage than perennial ryegrass swards in the spring. They reach peak yield during the main grazing season and are more resilient to dry conditions.

Research has shown multi-species leys tend to require higher levels of supplementation in the spring compared to ryegrass swards but yield very well during the April – October period. Multi-species swards work well where they are sown as a proportion of the area, alongside ryegrass swards.

Multi-Species grass seed mixture options

Germinal has a range of multi-species grass seed mixture options available to meet your needs and environmental scheme requirements.

kgIngredientType
6.6Perennial ryegrassGrass
0.7TimothyGrass
1.5White cloverLegume
1.5Red cloverLegume
1.0PlantainHerb
0.7ChicoryHerb
12.0  

Germinal Soil Booster herb pack can be added to any mixture to increase the diversity of the mix.

%SpeciesType
25Birdsfoot TrefoilLegume
20Alsike CloverLegume
30BurnetHerb
15Sheeps ParsleyHerb
10YarrowHerb
100%  

For advice on growing multi-species grass seed and crops, contact one of the Germinal forage experts.

Watch: Are multi-species swards right for your farm?

 

More From Our Knowledge Hub

Our Knowledge Hub is a resource of guides, topical discussion pieces and recent features for you to refer to and utilise for best practice.