Multi-species swards have the potential to produce high yields of quality forage at greatly reduced rates of nitrogen fertiliser input. 


A multi-species sward is a mixture of three or more species whose growth characteristics complement each other resulting in improved productivity compared to when each species is grown on their own. The species used typically come from three plant groups i.e. grasses, legumes and herbs, with each species bringing different benefits to the sward. Grasses such as perennial ryegrass and timothy provide strong early-season growth and quality while legumes like white and red clover feed the sward with nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere and boost protein.  As well as providing excellent quality, mineral-rich forage in the summer months, deep-rooting herbs like ribwort plantain and chicory are extremely drought tolerant which is an increasing concern for many Irish farmers. 

Why would I sow a Multi-species sward?

Multi-species swards have the potential to produce high yields of quality forage at greatly reduced rates of nitrogen fertiliser input. 

As well as providing excellent quality, mineral-rich forage in the summer months, deep-rooting herbs like ribwort plantain and chicory are extremely drought tolerant which is an increasing concern for many Irish farmers.

The benefits of multi-species swards

  • Multi-species swards can produce similar DM yields to perennial ryegrass swards at significantly lower rates of inorganic N fertiliser. This could be worth up to 7 bags 18.6.12/acre or €120/acre per year. 

  • The inclusion of warm-season species like chicory and plantain mean multi-species swards have strong summer production compared to a grass sward. Furthermore, these deep-rooting species make the sward much more tolerant of drought than a grass sward.

  • Multi-species swards are a source of highly digestible, high protein forage and can maintain their high quality throughout the growing season. 
  • The inclusion of legumes and mineral-rich herbs provides a more balanced diet than a grass sward with species like chicory also providing some anthelminthic benefits to grazing livestock. 
  • The use of multi-species swards compared to grass-only swards in agriculture can also provide a wide range of environmental benefits including:
  • Reduced N2O emissions and nitrate leaching associated with reduced fertiliser use.
  • Higher rates of carbon sequestration due to deeper root-depths
  •  Enhanced biodiversity, particularly pollinators feeding on the variety of flowering plants in multi-species swards.

 

Choosing the right Multi-species mixture 

Multi-species swards are often thought only suitable for good quality, dry land. However, by selecting species that can better cope with wet or dry conditions, we can formulate different mixtures to suit different soil types. 

A good starting point is a mixture of species that will perform on a range of soil types like perennial ryegrass, white clover, and ribwort plantain. Once we have this foundation, the mixture can be tailored towards dry or wet soils.

In particularly light, dry soils, adding species like festulolium, cocksfoot, lucerne and chicory will help keep the sward productive during prolonged dry periods.On the other hand, in heavy, wet soils, species like timothy, meadow fescue and plantain are well equipped to cope with such challenging conditions.


A mixture like DLF’s 6 Species Herbal Ley is an excellent all-round mixture that should produce large amounts of quality forage across a range of soil types. 


For more information on selecting the right multi-species mixture for your farm, call DLF's Thomas Moloney,  087 396 1265

 

an introduction to DLF Seeds Multi Species Swards

 

Multi-species Research References