Seven forage types (diploid and tetraploid perennial ryegrass, Italian ryegrass and hybrid ryegrass, a low-input mixture of perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot, timothy and meadow fescue, a mixture of perennial ryegrass and white clover, and monoculture of red clover) were sown in late July 2004. Each received one of four rates of dairy cattle slurry in three annual applications by trailing shoe, which supplied average nitrogen (N) inputs of 0·0, 114·9, 204·8 and 301·2 kg N ha−1 annum−1. Treatments were cut either three or four times annually over four years. Average dry-matter yield (DM) response to slurry N was 15·6 kg DM kg−1 N. Lowest recovery of slurry N was in the second application each year (after first cut). The data suggest that slurry applied to Italian ryegrass, and also to swards containing legumes on soils with high phosphorus content, will produce a lower DM response to slurry N and result in a lower slurry N recovery than on swards of perennial ryegrass or cocksfoot-dominant low-input mixtures. Apparent recovery of slurry N was low at the second cut, especially when first-cut yields had been high. To maximize slurry N recovery, application to regrowths with potentially slow rates of growth or high legume content should be avoided.