I always want to tell the whole story even if things have not worked out as well as expected, however, my experience with multispecies swards (MSS) is testing that philosophy to the limit.
In the last couple of years there have been some really positive stories around MSS, and I have looked on enviously and wondered if it could be of benefit to me.
My big issue is that it seems to be working well in dry conditions but there are not very many people managing it successfully when ground conditions are more challenging.
Two years ago I decided to try some of this MSS for myself. The first year it established very well, and I was pleasantly surprised, but when it came to grazing the MSS, things were not so positive.
The sward was very open, and it poached very easily, and this has hit the plantain and chicory hard. So much so that there is practically nothing left but grass and clover. I have quickly discovered that the herbs don’t like getting their feet wet or tramped by cattle.
Last year I tried another bit of MSS by direct drilling it this time. I was really disappointed with the establishment of this sward. It was very patchy, and makes me think you need some kind of till to get a good establishment.
All winter it was terrible looking, and I had convinced myself that it was a complete write-off.
I had several groups of farmers and individuals out visiting during the winter and spring. I brought them all into the field to see it.
I would say that most thought that I was mad in the head. Some suggested stitching in more seed and others said it was a write-off and I should start again. I even invited my seed merchant out to look at it but he is yet to take up the offer.
With the weather warming up in recent weeks, it has actually improved. There is now a substantial amount of herbage on it (a lot of weeds too). I perhaps am starting to come round to MSS again.
I have started to graze it with cattle and as usual conditions here are exceedingly difficult and the grazed parts are horrendous looking.
I have set this field up in eleven paddocks to try and ensure I have a longer recovery time.
Last year I felt that my management skills were better suited for grassland, so I am trying to adjust my skills to suit the MSS.
When I first started my MSS experience there were a lot of questions that I needed answers to. So far, I have got some answers but there are still a lot of things to be resolved.
Persistency is a massive issue, especially under wet conditions. Plantain and chicory are only going to last two to three years, although some have suggested this is long enough for it to have opened up the soil.
The theory is that the deep roots would improve drainage, but this has been proved wrong as there is an incredibly open sward which is more susceptible to poaching. Making silage from it is exceedingly difficult, especially in this part of the country. You need two good dry days to get the crop wilted, and this can be difficult for us.
This year I hope to find out if there are any anthelmintic benefits as I should have enough to graze the one batch of cattle for the entire year. I also intend to sow no fertiliser on it this year to see if I can graze the same number of livestock as conventionally managed paddocks.
There are still some potential benefits for MSS and there may be other benefits around carbon sequestration not yet proved. There is also a lot more biodiversity in the MSS even if it can be very untidy and difficult to look at.
I am not giving up yet, but it has proved a lot more difficult than I anticipated.