Effects of continuous sheep stocking and strategic rest periods on the sward characteristics of binary perennial grass/white clover associations

R. F. Gooding*, J. Frame

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Five binary perennial grass/white clover (Trifolium repens, cv. Menna) mixtures were evaluated over a 3-year period under continuous sheep stocking together with the imposition of a rest period for either an early or a late conservation cut; the experiment with plot sizes of 0·16 ha was replicated three times. The grass species and cultivars used were Merlinda tetraploid and Magella diploid perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), Prairial cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), Rossa meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis) and Goliath timothy (Phleum pratense). The greatest total lengths of white clover stolon developed in the meadow fescue (171·6 m m-2) and timothy (151·9 m m-2) associations compared with those in tetraploid perennial ryegrass (98·6 m m-2), diploid perennial ryegrass (91·9 m m-2) and cocksfoot (74·6 m m-2) (s.e.d. 16·4, P<0·001). On average, the proportion of white clover stolon that was buried was between 0·86 and 0·89 and this was more abundant in late than early season. Whereas timothy persisted, the persistence of meadow fescue was low under any of the managements tested and this was markedly reduced by the third grazing season. In the diploid perennial ryegrass sward, a late June to early August rest period for conservation enhanced white clover stolon length. An early April to late May rest period greatly reduced total white clover stolon length in both diploid perennial ryegrass and tetraploid perennial ryegrass associations (diploid perennial ryegrass - unrested 89 m m-2, early rest 56·1 m m-2, late rest 130·7 m m-2; tetraploid perennial ryegrass - unrested 125·1 m m-2, early rest 71 m m-2, late rest 99·7 m m-2; s.e.d. 19·19, P<0·001). The numbers of white clover stolon growing points per unit stolon length were greatest when the sward was rested during late June to early August - 55·9 m-1 stolon length compared with 45·7 m-1 for an April to late May rest and 46 m-1 in the absence of a rest (s.e.d. 2.59, P<0·001). Likewise, the percentage of stolon above ground was greatest with the late June to early August rest - 15·78% compared with 10·61% for the April to late May rest and 7·69% for no rest (s.e.d. 1·569, P<0·001). The complementary percentages of buried stolon indicate the important role this fraction has and the need to study stolon behaviour in grazing studies generally. It is concluded that, in relation to perennial ryegrass as a companion grass, meadow fescue and timothy allow better white clover development and cocksfoot less. However, other attributes have to be considered, for example the poor persistence of meadow fescue and the slower regrowth of timothy, both of which allow the invasion of weed grasses, or the lower acceptability of cocksfoot to livestock. The timing of the rest period before the conservation cut can influence white clover development considerably, but the effects differed with different companion grasses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-359
Number of pages10
JournalGrass and Forage Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPrint publication - Dec 1997


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