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The long-term effects on upland sheep production in the UK of a change to extensive management

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Extensification (a reduction in fertilizer inputs and stocking rate of grassland) is seen as one way of increasing the conservation value and of reducing the environmental impact of upland sheep production in the UK, but little is known about the consequences of such a change. This study determines the changes in animal production over ten years following the introduction of four extensive grazing management strategies to perennial ryegrass/white clover pastures at two upland sites. Fertilizer-free treatments were maintained with sward heights of: 4 cm (treatment 4/4U) or 8 cm (8/8U) during the whole of the grazing year, 4 cm during summer and 8 cm during autumn (4/8U) and 8 cm during summer and 4 cm during autumn (8/4U). A control treatment that received 140 kg N ha−1 year−1 was also maintained with a sward surface height of 4 cm (4/4F). Scottish Blackface sheep grazed all treatments.

The 4/4F treatment carried the greatest number of animals (3746 grazing days ha−1 year−1); the 4/4U and the 8/8U treatments carried 0·73 and 0·43 of this number respectively. The number on the 4/8U treatment was similar to that on the 4/4U while the 8/4U treatment carried 1·41 of that on the 8/8U treatment (0·61 of 4/4F). Mean individual animal performance was greatest on the 8 cm swards and tended to be lowest on the 4/4F treatment. However, the 4/4F treatment produced the greatest live weight of lamb (623 kg ha−1 year−1) with the 4/4U producing 0·77, and the 8/8U producing 0·55, of this amount. Although there was year-to-year variation in agricultural output, it was concluded that the lower levels of sheep production that result from a change to extensive systems of grazing management can be maintained for at least 10 years.
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Keywords: Extensification; lamb liveweight gain; long-term grazing; sward height; upland grassland use

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Home Farm, Hartwood, Shotts, UK, 2: Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, UK, and 3: Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Sourhope Research Station, Kelso, UK

Publication date: 2002-06-01

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