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Productivity, botanical composition, and nutritive value of commercial pasture mixtures

Sanderson, Matt A., Stout, Robert, Brink, Geoffrey
Agronomy journal 2016 v.108 no.1 pp. 93-100
Dactylis glomerata, Festuca arundinacea, Festulolium, Lolium perenne, Lotus corniculatus, Phleum pratense, Poa pratensis, Trifolium pratense, beef cows, botanical composition, dry matter accumulation, grasses, legumes, nutritive value, pastures, planting, seed mixtures, Pennsylvania
Pastures in the northeastern USA often are planted to mixtures of grasses and legumes. There is limited public sector information on the performance of commercial forage mixtures. We evaluated a range of commercial pasture mixtures to determine if the number of species in a mixture affected yield and botanical composition. Three replicate plots of 25 mixtures, five each of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 species of grasses and legumes were planted in August 2007 near State College, PA. Plots were grazed by beef cows in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Dry matter yield was determined at each of the six harvests in each year. Botanical composition was measured at the first, third, and last harvest each year. Dry matter yield was positively related to the number of species planted (r2 = 0.15, 0.18, and 0.26 for 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively). Specific mixtures within groups of similar species richness, however, varied greatly in yield depending on the botanical composition of the mixture. Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.), birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L.), and timothy (Phleum pratense L.) did not establish or persist well in mixture with the taller grasses orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, or tall fescue. The short-lived species festulolium (X Festulolium Asch.&Graetn.) and red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) contributed significantly to dry matter production during the first year and were gradually replaced by longer-lived species such as orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) and red clover. Nutritive value of forage was not related to the number of species in the seed mixture but was related to the percentage of grass and legume. Our results suggest that a strategy of planting forage mixtures with a combination of fast- and slow-establishing species is effective for multispecies pastures.