Complementary effects of red clover inclusion in ryegrass–white clover swards for grazing and cutting

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Abstract

Increasing plant species diversity in grasslands may improve productivity and stability of yields. In a field experiment, we investigated the herbage dry-matter (DM) yield and crude protein content of two-species swards of perennial ryegrass–white clover (Lolium perenne L.–Trifolium repens L.) and three-species swards of ryegrass–white clover with red clover (Trifolium pratense L.). Five different managements represented cutting, grazing and combinations thereof, with different slurry fertilization treatments in 1- to 4-year-old swards. The three-species mixture out-yielded the two-species mixture in years 1 and 2. Across all 4 years, yields were 8–10% higher in cut swards. Inclusion of red clover increased the yields of clover across the 4 years by 51% without fertilizer and by 90% when fertilized. Responses to slurry fertilization were similar in both mixtures and were mainly independent of sward age. There was a complementary effect over the season and across managements. Red clover dominated in the first and third cuts; white clover dominated in the second and fourth cuts. Red clover dominated in cut swards and white clover in grazed swards. Future prospects of the inclusion of red clover in sown swards are discussed. These may include higher nitrogen-use efficiency in ruminants, increased soil fertility and improved sward flexibility to cope with changing managements. The findings also suggest positive yield effects of alternating between cutting and grazing within the season or between years.

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