Farmers looking to extend their grazing season could have their prayers answered in the form of an enhanced ryegrass.
The festulolium, Matrix, is a cross between a meadow fescue and a perennial ryegrass and provides early and late season grazing, with high overall grass yields, says Ian Misselbrook, grass seed manager for Limagrain.
“Because Matrix is capable of growing at lower temperatures than ryegrass, it provides producers with the opportunity to extend their grazing period.”
French farmers have demonstrated Matrix can extend the grazing period by three weeks at either end compared to conventional ryegrass mixtures.
“The variety produces an extremely dense sward which is as good, if not better than a diploid perennial ryegrass,” he says. This is another contributory factor to keeping cows out longer as swards will be less prone to poaching.
As well as long season growth, Matrix produces a highly palatable, digestible and high sugar crop.
“The variety also has the ability to recover quickly, something which must be taken into consideration in rotational grazing systems,” says Mr Misselbrook.
“With a 21-day conventional rotation, it may be necessary to assess paddocks sooner, because Matrix can recover a lot quicker.
“The key is to maintain grass quality by getting the best regrowth possible and grazing at the three true leaf stage.” When this is not achieved, palatability and digestibility can drop.
And for producers using a conventional grass plate meter, it may be necessary to recalibrate to take into account high sward density.
“The variety also has the potential to be prone to winter damage, so it must be defoliated before autumn and managed correctly,” stresses Mr Misselbrook.
“At higher altitudes and more northerly locations, it would be advisable to plant Matrix at lower levels. A 70% mix with white clover would be recommendable for general use, with a 40% mix in areas prone to winter damage.” A 90% mix could be used by the more purest grassland dairy producers.
And in terms of yield, Matrix has been shown to significantly outperform the best conventional ryegrass “In simulated grazing trials, a 90:10 Matrix/white clover mix, produced 20.6t/ha compared to 17.9t/ha from conventional ryegrass plots.
“And in a cutting regime, Matrix was on a par with conventional hybrid ryegrasses.”
Matrix could also offer a suitable ley for intensive grazing beef and sheep producers, he says. “However, Matrix is not suitable for on under stocked or lax grazing regimes.”
Graham Boyt Sparsholt College, Hampshire
Driving down the costs of production and getting the most from grass are key drivers at Sparsholt College dairy unit, explains farm manager, Graham Boyt.
“We are in the process of reducing cow numbers from 140 to 120 and moving from all year round calving to autumn calving to try and make the most of grass.”
As the emphasis moved more towards grazing, Mr Boyt decided to test the performance of Matrix against a commercial grazing ley.
“We planted field strips of Matrix into a commercial four year grazing ley of intermediate and late perennial ryegrass mixed with white clover and have been impressed with the results.
“There appears to be preferential grazing of Matrix earlier and later in the season, reflecting increased grass palatability at this time.”
As a result, Matrix will be planted as a mix this spring. “Including Matrix in the ley should allow us to get cows out 2-3 weeks earlier and keep them out 2-3 weeks later.”
From visual observations, Mr Boyt also expects the variety to produce 10-15% more yield in the spring and 10% more in the autumn compared to a conventional ley.
“I was concerned about winter hardiness, but last year we experienced temperatures of -9C and this year temperatures have dropped to as low as -13C and it seems ok.”
However, because Matrix recovers quicker than other varieties, it does need looking after more than a conventional ley, he says.
“As a result we will shorten the rotation in early spring and late autumn so cows have access to Matrix sooner.”