Does post-grazing sward height influence sward characteristics, seasonal herbage dry-matter production and herbage quality?

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Abstract

Extending the grazing season through the production and utilization of high-quality forage is a key objective in grassland-based dairy production systems. Grazing swards to a low post-grazing sward height (PGSH) is a strategy for improving grass utilization. A grazing experiment conducted in Ireland investigated immediate and subsequent effects of PGSH on sward production, utilization and structural characteristics. Swards were grazed to 2·7 cm (severe; S1) or 3·5 cm (moderate; M1) from 10 February to 18 April 2010 (Period 1; P1). From 19 April, each P1 paddock was halved and grazed to either 3·8 cm (S2) or 4·8 cm (M2), until 30 October (Period 2; P2). The first grazing rotation was +7 d on S1 swards compared with M1 swards (45 d), due to greater herbage utilization (+0·22). Herbage production during P1 was not affected by PGSH but a severe PGSH during this period reduced subsequent herbage production: 13·9 (S1) vs. 15·5 t dry matter (DM) ha−1 (M1) by the end of the study. Leaf proportion was increased (+0·10) on S2 swards compared with M2 swards, but M2 swards produced 1·2 t DM ha−1 more herbage during P2. Despite the relatively lower level of sward utilization obtained from moderate grazing in P1 (3·5 cm) and P2 (4·5–5·0 cm), such levels of PGSH increased DM production while maintaining sward quality, compared with severe grazing (2·7 cm in P1 and 3·5–4·0 cm in P2).

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