Can nitrogen-fertilised ryegrass substitute for white clover?


  • G.P. Cosgrove
  • C.B. Anderson
  • A.J. Parsons
  • J.L. Brock
  • J.C. Tilbrook



Sheep and cattle have difficulty satisfying their preference for white clover when it's proportion in pastures is low. We tested the hypothesis that they prefer clover because it has a higher concentration of nitrogen (N), and expected that they would reduce their preference for clover (increase their preference for grass) when grass had a higher concentration of N. In two experiments, mature sheep and growing cattle were offered choices between grass, having either a high or a low concentration of N, and white clover, growing as adjacent pure swards. To test the specific role of N in preference they were also offered each grass alone (sheep only) and a choice between the high and low N grass. Sheep and cattle preferred clover (75% of time grazing on clover and 25% on grass), but this preference was not affected by the concentration of N in the grass. They preferred the grass with a high concentration of N to that with a low concentration. Sheep and cattle detect differences in the N concentration of food items, but alter their grazing behaviour (express a preference) only when it does not affect dry matter intake or the proportion of clover in their diet. We conclude that N is not the reason why animals prefer white clover. Manipulating the N concentration in grass will not cause the switch in preference required for animals to easily satisfy their preference from typical mixed species pastures that are grass-dominant and have a low proportion of clover. Keywords: cattle, diet selection, food preference, grazing behaviour, nitrogen, sheep







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