The response of an old, unimproved mixed-species pasture to fertilizer nitrogen was examined under 4-weekly cutting or continuous grazing with young beef cattle. Five N fertilizer rates were applied: zero, 100, 200, 400 or 800 kg/ha per year. The investigation was carried out in Devon, on a heavy clay soil in a region of high winter rainfall in 1984, 1985 and 1986.
Annual total herbage dry-matter (DM) production, live weight gain (LWG) and utilized metabolizable energy (UME) output all increased with successive increments of fertilizer N up to 400 kg N/ha per year. Under 4-weekly cutting, the response per kg applied N fell below 10 kg DM at an application rate of 268 kg N/ha per year, giving a yield of 10·6 t/ha per year. Under grazing, the overall response during the grazing season per kg applied N fell below 300 kg live weight carried per ha at a fertilizer rate of 248 kg/ha per year, giving a UME output of 78 GJ/ha over the grazing season. High available soil N contributed to the high productivity from these swards. Animal output at moderate (200 kg N/ha per year) N application rates did not appear to be constrained by the initial botanical composition of this unimproved sward. Repeated high N applications in the 400 kg N/ha per year treatment reduced output in 1986 under grazing and cutting, compared with treatments which had received the lower N applications.
The DM yield from the 4-weekly cutting study gave a satisfactory prediction of UME output from this pasture. Climatic conditions, particularly high rainfall, appeared to be an important constraint on animal performance at pasture.
The high UME output achieved from this pasture at 200 kg applied N/ha was well above the average UME for commercial farms.