Dry matter yield, nutritive value and tiller density of tall fescue and perennial ryegrass swards under grazing
Alternative pasture species with the potential to supply quality forage during summer feed shortages, such as tall fescue (TF), are of interest to dairy farmers. A paddock scale study was undertaken to compare performance of TF managed on a shorter rotation similar to perennial ryegrass (RG) (TF-RG) with TF managed on a longer rotation more consistent with its morphology of 4 live leaves/tiller (TF-TF), and with RG (RG-RG). Accumulated dry matter (DM) yields were similar for the three treatments. Patch grazing was observed during the first spring, with more long patches in TFTF than in either TF-RG or RG-RG. Sown-species leaf area index (LAI) was greater in TF-TF compared with TF-RG and RG-RG (2.25, 1.56 and 0.90, respectively; P<0.05). The proportions of grass weeds were higher in the TF-RG (P<0.05) compared with TF-TF and RG-RG treatments (302, 207 and 164 g/kg DM, respectively). A soil fertility gradient with distance along the paddock away from the farm race was recorded, with Olsen P declining at 0.130 mg/kg/m with distance from the farm race. Tiller density, LAI and yield of sown species and total yield sampled were all positively correlated with Olsen P. Overall, this study highlights the importance of managing TF pastures according to its specific growth habits. However, attaining longer grazing rotations under field conditions whilst trying to maintain cow intakes, is likely to continue to prove elusive.