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 and emissions due to reduced fertiliser use.
  •  The MSS Increases animal health and performance.
  • 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. 

In the video below farmer discusses the use of multispecies swards

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.

  • 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 nitrogen 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 the Table below.

Savings and emission reduction from the use of MSS

 Scenario 1Scenario 2Scenario 3
 Grass only swardsMSS 10 % grazing areaMSS 20% of grazing area
The area under  MSS swards(ha)03.67.2
Average nitrogen fertiliser(kg/ha)220213206
Fertiliser Savings408816
Extra reseeding costs ( €)-65-130
Total farm savings ( €)343686
 Environmental Impact 
Emissions(kg CO2-eq / kg FPCM)0.9600.9570.954
 Reduction in emissions (%)0.310.63
kg CO2-eq / kg FPCM  is the carbon footprint per kilogram of Fat and Protein corrected milk
The May 2023 fertiliser prices of  €520/t  for CAN and €602/t  for Urea were used (
Annual nitrogen fertiliser reduction from 220kg/ha to 150kg/ha for the area under MSS


Research at Farm Zero C

At FZC, plots were planted with multi-species swards: grass, clover, chicory, and plantain with the primary objective of reducing chemical fertiliser usage while maintaining dry matter production. When grazing cows were introduced into the MSS, there was no significant reduction in milk yield or palatability issues noted.

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 than grass-only swards(Roca-Fernandez et al., 2016). 

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.”


Farmers can easily purchase MSS seeds from their local merchants or cooperatives.