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Grassland - Mixing it up!

15 June 2022
Type Media Article

Eamon Patten, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Ballinrobe.

Good grassland management is key to maximizing animal performance and also reducing production costs no matter what the stocking rate. Now we also have the complexity of sustainability, greenhouse gases and biodiversity to take into account. Recently there is more talk of what we are grazing and how we graze our pastures. There is less emphasis on the sole monoculture crop of ryegrass.


For intensive holdings with good management skills most will know the perennial ryegrass /white clover mix story. White Clover will increase grass production and quality. It improves animal performance with up to a 13% increase in animal carcass weight and 25% increase in lamb live weight gain. It can save on Nitrogen fertiliser (save up to110 units N/acre, CAN) and gives a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Red clover is more suited to a fodder conservation regime as persistency can be difficult when grazed. 

Multi-species mixtures

Another angle for intensive holdings in the future is the use of Multi-species mixtures which are a combination of diverse forage species with specific characteristics, including types of clover or herbs such as plantain or chicory. The advantages of multi-species swards are to maintain a steady growth rate at reduced fertiliser application.

A well-managed clover content in the sward (20-50%) can allow you to cut mineral fertiliser application by more than half in summer, at a time when it is critical for greenhouse gases emissions. Plantain and chicory also act at different levels to avoid losses of nitrogen (N) on the farm: reduced leaching, better N use by animals, and less emissions from urine patches.

Mixed Grazing

Another area for all farm types to consider is the idea of Mixed Grazing systems where two or more animal types graze the same land, either simultaneously or consecutively. Mixed grazing can allow better utilization of the pasture grown. Grazing routines can be more flexible provided there is a good farm grazing infrastructure in place.  Different animal types can get preferential treatment to better quality forage and others that are not under pressure can even be restricted and forced to graze out less optimal pastures. 

The different species have different sward height preferences and grazing patterns, sheep for example will graze tighter around the cattle dung patches. There can be lower presence of weed infestations seen in the grass swards. This is due to the grass swards being thicker from the sheep grazing tightly. This could mean less requirements for topping.  For this system to be more efficient, from an animal production view, would require a ratio of 60:40 in stocking rate between the species either way.

Another potential advantage could be a reduced worm burden seen in both the cattle and sheep on the farm due to intermittent grazing. This reduces the levels of anthelminthic products being used on the farm and therefore lowers the threat of anthelminthic resistance.

Teagasc Sheep Open Day

To get more information on these areas contact your local Teagasc Office or consider attending the Teagasc National Sheep Open Day that takes place in Athenry on Saturday, June 18th at 10am. This offers you an excellent opportunity to review the latest research and technical advice from the Teagasc sheep programme and its practical application at farm level. There will be a mix of technical presentations and interactive workshops dealing with all the main areas important to sheep production.

Areas that will be covered on the main technical stands include:

  • Sustainable systems
  • Breeding
  • Health
  • Hill sheep

There will also be an opportunity to review the wider research programme and meet with researchers, advisors, students and technical staff who will present more detail on the individual projects ongoing in Athenry. The Open Day is free to attend and all sheep farmers and those involved in the sheep sector are welcome to attend. Hope we can see you there!