Why Sow Multi-Species Swards In 2024?

Would you like to reduce your Nitrogen fertiliser bill by up to 100%?? Interest in multi-species swards has grown rapidly in recent years with an estimated 8,000 acres sown in 2023, a significant increase on the couple of hundred sown just 5 years ago!
Why Sow Multi-Species Swards In 2024?

Why Consider Mult-Species Swards?

The interest from Irish farmers is well-founded and each year new research is presented showing the massive potential of multi-species swards to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of Irish grass-based production systems.


High Output, Low Input

The number one benefit of using multi-species swards on Irish farms is their ability to grow the same amount of forage as a perennial ryegrass sward with very little chemical N fertiliser – sometimes none at all! Studies comparing multi-species swards to perennial ryegrass swards from Teagasc, UCD and DLF’s own trials consistently show that fertiliser savings of at least 75% can be made with multi-species swards. The data below from Teagasc Grange clearly shows how multi-species swards receiving zero kg of N fertiliser produced the same tonnage as a grass sward receiving 240kg N/ha per year.

This impressive production without fertiliser is mainly due to the presence of red and white clover in these mixtures. These legume species can fix up to 200kg N/ha from the atmosphere and make some of it available to neighbouring species. But there are still production benefits when we compare multi-species swards to grass-clover swards, as seen in the graph above.

Multi-species or grass-clover? What’s the difference?

It is often put to the team at DLF that there is no real benefit to sowing multi-species over grass-clover swards and that grass-clover swards are easier managed. This is not the case, however. The inclusion of herbs like chicory and plantain brings unique properties to a mixture and definitely lead to production benefits over simpler grass-clover mixtures.

Chicory and plantain have a much bigger root system than grasses and clovers. They can use their extensive roots to gather nutrients and water from deeper down in the soil rather than compete directly with the grass and clover roots. This greater nutrient-use efficiency of multi-species swards can lead to greater annual yields than grass-clover swards. These deeper rooting species also give multi-species swards strong drought tolerance and during the summer months of July and August we see impressive growth rates compared to grass- cover swards on farm.

Livestock perform better on Multi-species Swards

This improved summer growth combined with excellent feed quality can lead to impressive animal performance gains with multi-species swards. Chicory and plantain are highly palatable, highly digestible plants with an added bonus of minerals like calcium, copper, selenium and magnesium. Trials grazing lambs and cattle are showing greater live-weight gain and faster finishing times when animal eat multi-species swards compared to grass – all of this added productivity comes with a huge fertiliser saving too!

If you are thinking of sowing a multi-species sward now is the perfect time to do it as DAFM’s MSS Measure will cover the cost of seed up to 50 acres in 2024. If you are unsure about sowing multi-species swards follow DLF on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to get updates on management from our team of experts and Grass Partners.