The use of Multispecies Swards helps to improve soil quality and reduces the demand for fertiliser, therefore, reducing costs and greenhouse gas emissions associated with chemical fertiliser use.

Multispecies Swar


A Multispecies Sward (MSS) is when more than two forage species with different growth characteristics are grown to complement each other so as to improve the productivity of the grassland. The suitability of species depends on the climate and soil type.

Why should I use MSS?

  • The MSS reduces farm costs due to reduced fertiliser use.
  •  The MSS Increases animal health and performance.
  • Reduces emissions for the GHGs methane and nitrous oxide.
  • The different rooting system of MSS improves soil structure and soil organic carbon.
  • Higher-yielding forages as a result of MSS have a relatively lower risk of nitrates leaching as compared to highly fertilised monocultures. 

How do I establish and manage MSS?

One should include at least one species from the following families. 

Grasses: Perennial ryegrass, Timothy, Cocksfoot

Legumes: White clover, Red clover, Causian clover, Lucerne, Greater birdsfoot trefoil

Herbs :   Plantain, Chicory, Yarrow

The video below provides information on the establishment and management of MSS.

  • Species choices is dependent on climate and soils
  • White clover, perennial ryegrass and ribwort plantain grow on a wide range of soils and climatic conditions. 
  • Wetter soils favour the growth of species such as timothy, birds foot trefoil and burnet whereas species like lurcene and chicory grow well in light dry soils.
  • Reseeding is highly recommended and herbicides should be used to control weeds.
  • After establishment post emergence herbicides should not be used.
  • Soil NPK index of 3-4 and pH of 6.5 at the establishment. 

Learn more about the establishment and management of MSS from the webinar.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

Multispecies swards can reduce chemical fertiliser demand by approximately 90kg/ha per year. The net savings and emission reduction from chemical fertiliser for a typical conventional farm are summarised in Table 3.

Table 3 Savings and emission reduction from the use of MSS

Scenario 1 Scenario 2Scenario 3
Grass only swardsMSS on 5% of the areaMSS on 10% of the area
Area under MSS swards(ha)01.63.1
Fertiliser Savings335670
Extra reseeding costs ( €)-79-158
Net farm savings ( €)256512
Environmental Impact
Emissions(kg CO2-eq / kg FPCM)0.950.9460.942
Reduction in emissions (%)0.40.84
kgCO2-eq /kg FPCM is the carbon footprint per kilogram of Fat and Protein Corrected milk Stocking rate is 2.5 LU
31ha pasture area Soil drainage is average.
Fertiliser costs 2.41/kg of nitrogen
Net savings/ cost are the annual savings or cost per farm


Research at Farm Zero C

At  Farm Zero C,  the MSS consisting of PRG, clover, chicory and plantain was planted to reduce chemical fertiliser use.

Other Research

There is ongoing feeding work in Teagasc Johnstown (Dairy and beef systems), Moorepark (dairy systems MULTIMILK), UCD (beef and sheep systems work and dairy feeding SMARTSWARD and GREENLAMB).

The main findings from previous  grassland research on MSS are:

  • Incorporating deep-rooted swards such as plantain improves the grassland’s resilience to drought (Grange et al., 2021).
  • Monoculture grassland receiving up to 300kg/ha of chemical Nitrogen fertiliser had almost similar yield with MSS with no fertiliser at all.
  • The MSS had higher nutritional value (Moloney et al., 2021).
  • Under rotational grazing, milk yield and DMI were higher for cows grazing MSS (Roca-Fernandez 2016) than grass-only swards. 

Links  for more research 


The use of MSS as a strategy helps the farmers to meet the following regulations and targets.

European green deal 

Nitrates and water directive Ireland

 Ag Climatise roadmap 2020 –The roadmap to climate-neutral agriculture encourages farmers to use multispecies swards to reduce fertiliser use. The following actions of the roadmap towards climate neutrality promote the use of MSS.

  •  “Action 1: Reducing chemical nitrogen fertiliser use by 40% by 2030.”
  • “Action 4: Maximising production of grazed grass.”


The following cooperatives and seed houses can supply MSS seeds in Ireland.