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Abstract

Two contrasting decision rules for adjusting stock density to control the sward height of continuously grazed grass swards were tested and developed. One rule calculated the adjustment as a percentage of the existing stock density (Percentage Rule); the other related the adjustment to estimates of the bulk density of the grazed horizon and individual animal intake (Absolute Rule). Both decision rules related the adjustments to the change in sward height over the previous week and to the deviation from the target value. The decision rules were tested by continuously grazing lactating ewes and then dry ewes after weaning with a target sward height of 4 cm on 0·33-ha plots with stock density adjusted by varying animal numbers. The Percentage Rule failed to increase the stock density sufficiently rapidly when grass growth was accelerating, leading to increasing deviation in sward height from a 4 cm target value. The Absolute Rule succeeded in controlling sward height once the bulk density term had been correctly adjusted. Pre-emptive adjustment of stock density in anticipation of a change in grass growth rate marginally improved the control that was achieved by the Absolute Rule.