Rankin J.R.1, Hoy J.1, Brown S. 1, Lowe D.E.2, Patterson J.D. 2, Scollan N.D.3 and Lively F.O.2
1AgriSearch, Innovation Centre, Large Park, Hillsborough, BT26 6D, R N. Ireland, United Kingdom; 2Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Large Park, Hillsborough, BT26 6DR, N. Ireland, United Kingdom; 3Queen’s University, 19 Chlorine Gardens, Belfast, BT9 5DL, N. Ireland, United Kingdom
There is evidence to suggest that increasing the diversity of plant species (multi-species swards (MSS)) can counteract some of the challenges faced by Northern Ireland (NI) ruminant livestock farmers. There are many suggested benefits from incorporating a mix of grass, legume and herb species into grazing platforms, such as their deep rooting properties, improved soil health and reduction in the requirement for manufactured nitrogen fertilizer input. However, there is a considerable lack of information surrounding the management of MSS on farms in NI. AgriSearch and AFBI have been working with eight NI commercial farmers trialling MSS on their farms through the SUPER-G and EcoSward projects and a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Operational Group. With support from AgriSearch, AFBI and Queen’s University the farms involved have trialled a range of seed mixtures and establishment options. Initial results have shown the MSS are significantly more drought resilient and can produce comparable dry matter yields to conventional perennial ryegrass dominant (PRG) swards with lower fertilizer inputs. Furthermore, animals grazing MSS required less use of anthelmintics than those on grass swards. In addition to the knowledge provided by researchers, the peer-to-peer learning and support has been beneficial, particularly regarding establishment techniques and initial management of MSS.
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