Few farmers would rely on genetics from the past for livestock breeding but many stick with the same grass seed varieties and mixtures year after year – even if they aren’t delivering the best results.
For some farmers, the prospect of picking a new grass can seem daunting. There are hundreds of different varieties, blends and mixtures available – so how do you know which one will work best?
If you are unsure about which product to pick, we advise selecting a grass seed from one of the UK’s Recommended Lists. Bred to perform in UK conditions, grasses included on Recommended Lists have been have been tried and tested by farmers, who’ve seen real results.
As a starting place, perennial ryegrass remains the most popular form of grass for grazing animals in the UK. But there are many other varieties that the farming sector relies on including clover, herbs and other forms of forage crops. Used in conjunction with modern grass varieties, in specially devised blends and mixtures, these can bring big yield benefits – giving animals additional essential vitamins and minerals to help weight gain, while also reducing nitrogen fertiliser requirements.
Below, we’ve put together a quick guide to the main species available, and most beneficial to UK farmers.
All ryegrasses are capable of producing high yields of very high quality, high energy grass for cattle grazing. They are all very flexible and can be used for both cutting and grazing. They are very effective users of nitrogen but must be maintained well to maximise productivity
PERENNIAL RYEGRASS Lolium perenne
The most popular grass used for dairy enterprises. Generally persistent for up to five years.
Min. germination temp: 7-8°C
Seeds/kg: 600,000 (dip); 290,000 (tet)
HYBRID RYEGRASS Lolium hybridum
Can extend the shoulders of the grazing season. Hybrid grasses are also persistent for three to five years depending on genetic capabilities and can produce up to 10% more dry matter than perennials.
Min. germination temp: 5-6°C
Seeds/kg: 450,000 (dip); 269,000 (tet)
ITALIAN RYEGRASS Lolium multiflorum
Generally found in short-term silage mixtures, it is a two year species that grow to temperatures as low as 3-4ºC and can extend the grazing season by three to four weeks in spring and autumn. Italian ryegrasses are capable of producing up to 20% more dry matter than perennials.
Min. germination temp: 4-5°C
Seeds/kg: 430,000 (dip); 265,000 (tet)
WESTERWOLD Lolium mul. westerwoldicum
Rapidly establishing annual species which gives high productivity within 12 months of sowing. This species is useful for sowing immediately after maize or cereal harvest in autumn or in spring, when high yields are required within 3-6 months of sowing.
Min. germination temp: 3-4°C
Seeds/kg: 400,000 (dip); 221,000 (tet)
Clover fixes nitrogen in the soil (figures of 170-220kg N/ha/yr are achievable) -
and is therefore a very valuable species in efficient grassland management.
An absolute essential for any grazing livestock system. This perennial species provides ‘free’ nitrogen, which has been fixed from the atmosphere, and can feed companion grasses. Adding white clover to grassland can increase sward digestibility, especially in the summer period. It can also improve grass protein levels and trials have proved increase intakes on grass / clover swards compared to grass alone.
Min. germination temp: 9-10°C
Red clover is a useful plant for lactating cows and can help boost milk production but should be avoided by pregnant and breeding animals. When well managed, red clover can persist for up to five years, fixing around 50 kg N/ha/annum more than white clover. Usually sown with Italian ryegrass in short-term leys, it can also be sown with perennial and hybrid grasses to extend the lifetime of a sward by helping to suppress weeds. Red clover is typically quicker to establish than white clover although not as long lasting or tolerant of poorer conditions/management.
Min. germination temp: 9-10°C