Pastures with more than two forage species are more productive than simpler mixes during drought, but not when rainfall is adequate.

That’s according to researchers at USDA’s Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit at Penn State University. They found that, during a drought year, milk production per acre was 86% higher for a mixture of grasses, legumes and chicory than for a simple orchardgrass-white clover mixture. The gain was due to differences in stocking density, not daily milk production per cow, which was the same for all mixtures.

They tested pasture mixes with up to nine species, but say choosing forages with desirable traits, such as water-use efficiency or deep roots, is more important than number of species. Also, drought-tolerant species such as red clover and chicory are relatively short-lived and may have to be re-established quite often.

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