The concept of sward target has been used recently to characterise grazing management practices, but its efficiency to monitor and control sward structure questioned since it corresponds to a single sward structural feature, usually sward surface height. The objective of this experiment was to evaluate sward structure and its patterns of variation throughout the year on continuously stocked marandu palisadegrass swards maintained at 30 cm and subjected to contrasting rhythms of growth from January 2007 to April 2008. Treatments corresponded to three nitrogen application rates (150, 300 and 450 kg ha-1 of N) plus the control (no N fertilisation), and were allocated to experimental units according to a complete randomised block design, with four replications. Sward herbage mass, morphological composition, leaf area index (LAI), foliage angle and light interception were evaluated. The increase in nitrogen application rates resulted in increased sward herbage mass, proportion of leaf and stem, and reduction in the proportion of dead material. These modifications were in line with the increase in LAI and reduction in foliage angle, although they did not modify sward light interception. Despite the wide range of nitrogen application rates used, there was a common pattern of variation in sward structure. Overall, changes in sward structural characteristics generated by the range of growth rhythms studied were small, indicating that sward height corresponded to an efficient way to monitor and control the grazing process and sward structure, and can be used to define targets of grazing management.
Brachiaria brizantha; nitrogen; sward structure; sward height; grazing management