Does the Admixture of Forage Herbs Affect the Yield Performance, Yield Stability and Forage Quality of a Grass Clover Ley?
It is unclear whether the use of multi-species swards is a suitable measure for climate change adaptation by achieving high and stable dry matter (DM) production and good forage quality in grazing systems. The objective of the study is to evaluate whether a complex rather than a simple grass clover mixture enhances performance under nitrogen (N)-deficient conditions due to greater diversity in plant functional traits. During a four-year field experiment, a three-species and a seven-species grass clover mixture were compared under one cutting-for-conservation and two simulated grazing (defoliation every three or four weeks) treatments. The results revealed a similarity in the DM yields of both seed mixtures, indicating that in the given conditions the species in the simple mixture already offered crucial yield-determining functional traits. Different growth patterns, however, led to higher intra-annual yield stability in the complex mixture. In the cutting-for-conservation system, DM yields were higher, but this came at the expense of reduced metabolisable energy and crude protein contents and lower inter-annual yield stability. We conclude that higher seeding costs for multi-species mixtures are compensated by greater yield stability while offering the potential for additional eco-system services like enhanced carbon sequestration and diverse food for pollinators.