Mixed Pastures Increase Performance and Reduce Nitrogen Leaching

US - Increased pasture species diversity could provide dairy farmers with increased options for managing environmental impacts and improving pasture resilience during periods of drought, says Dr Sharon Woodward DairyNZ senior scientist.
calendar icon 24 June 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Dr Woodward presented the results from a three year mixed pasture trial at an open day at DairyNZ’s Lye Farm. The trial was undertaken at DairyNZ’s Scott Research Farm in the Waikato and was established to determine whether mixed pasture could increase milk solids production and improve nitrogen efficiency.

“Cows fed on mixed pasture excreted half the amount of nitrogen (N) in their urine compared to cows on standard pasture”, says Sharon

“Reducing N losses has implications for greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching.”

In the trial both the standard and mixed pastures were sown with perennial ryegrass and white clover. The mixed pastures were also sown with lucerne, chicory, plantain and prairie grass although the prairie grass was quickly ruled out as it didn’t perform.

The cows on the mixed pasture ate less than those on the standard pasture.

“Although the cows on the mixed pasture ate less they were more efficient as they produced at least as much milk and sometimes more milk. This of course means more milk solids, not only because of the increase in volume but because we sometimes got an increase in milk protein concentration as well”, says Sharon.

Total cumulative dry matter yields were similar for both pasture types although the pattern of growth was different. There were advantages in feed availability in summer and autumn from the mixed pastures however this yield advantage did not persist in winter, says Sharon.

Pasture performance has been interesting especially during the recent drought.

“At the height of the drought the lucerne, with its deep root system had no problem surviving the dry and acted as a shade, protecting the ryegrass. Ryegrass in the mixed pasture remained at a reasonable length and was a lush green whereas in the standard pasture the ryegrass was stunted and brown”, says Sharon.

“We were achieving significant differences in dry matter production with the mixed pastures and still achieving pasture covers close to 2000 kg DM/ha.”

Although species like lucerne, chicory and plantain in the mixed pasture do not grow as well during the winter, they have bounced back by summer during the first three years of the trial.

Hopefully measurements are going to continue for another couple of years, so we can see if this high level of species diversity in the mixed pasture is maintained, says Sharon.

The performance of the mixed pasture during the drought highlights the potential of increased pasture diversity providing other options for farmers in meeting the challenges of adverse climatic conditions, says Sharon

The biggest finding from the study however was that feeding mixed pastures had a major impact on reducing urinary N losses and this was achieved with no loss in milk production.

The study was funded by DairyNZ and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Increased options with mixed pasture

Read more: http://www.dairynz.co.nz/dairynz_news.aspx?articleid=2145881036#ixzz2X7O48YGN

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