How to grow multi-species swards

What is a multi-species sward?

A multi-species sward is composed of three or more species, most commonly grasses, herbs and legumes, providing 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.

Type

Species

Benefits

Expected persistency (years)

Grazing suitability

Grass

Perennial Ryegrass

Good spring and autumn growth; high quality

10+

+++++

Timothy

Suited to colder soils, palatable

10+

++++

Cocksfoot

Suits dry soils, deep rooting

 

++

Palatability declines with infrequent grazing

Legume

White Clover

Can fix over 150kg N/ha/year

High quality, high protein

5+

+++++

Red Clover

High yielding, high quality, high protein Can fix over 150kg N/ha/year,

3

+++++

Alsike Clover

A low growing clover, more tolerant of wet and acidic soils than white clover

3-4

++++

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Can fix over 150kg N/ha/year

High quality, high protein

2-3

++

     

Herb

Plantain

Good early season growth, palatable, coarse root structure, medium root depth, high in minerals

4-5

+++++

Chicory

Drought tolerance, deep tap root, anthelmintic properties, high in minerals

2-3

+++++

Sainfoin

Palatable, good drought tolerance, anthelmintic, not suited to heavy grazing

3-5

++

Salad Burnet

Deep rooting, drought tolerant

3-4

++

difficult to establish

Yarrow

Deep rooting, drought tolerant

3-4

++

difficult to establish

Sheeps Parsley

Perennial, taproot for good drought tolerance, acts as a soil conditioner

3-4

++

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.

kg

Ingredient

Type

6.6

Perennial ryegrass

Grass

0.7

Timothy

Grass

1.5

White clover

Legume

1.5

Red clover

Legume

1.0

Plantain

Herb

0.7

Chicory

Herb

12.0

  

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

%

Species

Type

25

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Legume

20

Alsike Clover

Legume

30

Burnet

Herb

15

Sheeps Parsley

Herb

10

Yarrow

Herb

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?

 

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