Effects of grazing by sheep or cattle on sward structure and subsequent performance of weaned lambs

I. A. Wright, J. R. Jones, A. J. Parsons

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The study was designed to test the hypothesis that grazing management in early season could alter sward structure to facilitate greater animal performance during critical periods. The effects of grazing a mixed perennial ryegrass/white clover sward at different sward surface heights, by cattle or sheep, in early season on sward composition and structure, and on the performance of weaned lambs when they subsequently grazed these swards in late season were determined. In two consecutive years, from mid-May until mid-July, replicate plots (three plots per treatment) were grazed by either suckler cows and calves or ewes and lambs at 4 or 8 cm sward surface heights (Phase 1). From mid-August (Year 1) or early August (Year 2), weaned lambs continuously grazed, for a period of 36 d (Year 1) or 43 d (Year 2) (Phase 2), the same swards maintained at 4 cm (treatment 4–4), 8 cm (treatment 8–8) or swards which had been allowed to increase from 4 to 8 cm (treatment 4–8). Grazing by both cattle and sheep at a sward surface height of 4 cm compared with 8 cm in Phase 1 resulted in a higher (P < 0·001) number of vegetative grass tillers per m2 in Phase 2, although the effect was more pronounced after grazing by sheep. Sheep grazing at 8 cm in Phase 1 produced a higher number of reproductive tillers per m2 and a greater mass of reproductive stem (P < 0·001) than the other treatment combinations. The mass of white clover lamina was higher under cattle grazing (P < 0·05), especially on the 8-cm treatment, and white clover accounted for a greater proportion of the herbage mass. These effects had mainly disappeared by the end of Phase 2. On the 4–4 and 8–8 sward height treatments the liveweight gain of the weaned lambs was higher (P < 0·05) on the swards previously grazed by cattle than those grazed by sheep. The proportion of white clover in the diet and the herbage intake also tended to be higher when the weaned lambs followed cattle. However, there was no difference in liveweight gain, proportion of white clover in the diet or herbage intake between swards previously grazed by cattle or sheep on the 4–8 sward height treatment. It is concluded that grazing grass/white clover swards by cattle compared with sheep for the first half of the grazing season resulted in less reproductive grass stem and a slightly higher white clover content in the sward, but these effects are transient and disappear from the sward by the end of the grazing season. They can also be eliminated by a short period of rest from grazing in mid-season. Nevertheless these changes in sward structure can increase the performance of weaned lambs when they graze these swards in late season.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-150
Number of pages13
JournalGrass and Forage Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2001


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