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Securing forage systems by means of multi-species pastures

Improving the diversity of plants in the pastures grazed by dairy cows can increase the amount of grass ingested and hence the milk they produce. Livestock farms also increase their feed autonomy, a key element in the sustainability of dairy systems.

Cow grazing in a pasture of grasses-legumes-chicory in Lusignan. © INRA, Sandra Novak
By INRA Brittany-Normandy Communications Department
Updated on 08/03/2018
Published on 07/09/2018

To enable dairy farms to improve their feed autonomy, one option is to increase the amount of forage available at grazing. But standard combinations of plants (a grass and a legume) appear to have reached their agronomic and zootechnical limits in numerous regions. "To increase forage potential and mitigate climatic variations, it is necessary to diversify the species present in pastures”, explains Rémy Delagarde, scientist in the INRA-AgroCampus Ouest Joint Research Unit for Physiology, Environment and Genetics of Animals and Livestock Systems (UMR Pegase) based at the INRA Brittany-Normandy Research Centre. To measure the influence of the number of species present in a pasture on the amount of forage produced, the scientist and his colleagues compared four types of pasture containing one or up to five species in a mixture (two grasses, two types of clover and chicory) over a two-year period. Dairy cows grazed these pastures between March and November.

More forage and more milk

On combined and mixed grasslands, the forage intake of cows and the amount of grass valorised per hectare were higher, as was the milk production of each cow. This rise in milk yield resulted from the cumulative and additive effect of a 6% increase in the number of days of grazing per hectare, a 2.1 kg increase in the grass dry matter ingested daily per cow and a gain in feed value. All these improvements enabled a rise in milk yield of 2.1 kg per day per cow.  With grazing that optimised forage consumption and a climate globally favourable to its growth during the two years of the study, it was possible to achieve a forage yield calculated at between 11 and 13 tonnes dry matter per hectare. As well as increasing grass consumption, these multi-species pastures offer a better distribution of production between the seasons and years. “By diversifying the species present in pastures, it is therefore possible to gain in feed autonomy”, explains Rémy Delagarde.

Other combinations and species, such as plantain, deserve to be studied both in fresh pastures and forage stored as hay or silage, as well as in the context of grassland-crop rotations.

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