Multi-species forage crops are a no-brainer solution for healthy stock, thriving soil and a growing bank balance.

A biodiverse agricultural enterprise supports long term productivity, boosts yield in quality and quantity, improves soil fertility, and reduces the need for synthetic fertilisers and pest control. There are also a growing number of natural capital benefits to be gained by increasing biodiversity on farms.

F.A.R.M (Farm Agronomy and Resource Management) is located near Pittsworth, just outside of Toowoomba in Queensland. F.A.R.M focuses on long-term sustainability, productivity and profitability through implementing regenerative ag practices. Increasing biodiversity is one of the strategies the team encourages their clients to adopt to improve land resilience and plant and animal health.

Biodiversity can be implemented or increased in any agricultural operation, from small-scale orchards to broadacre cropping or, in the case of this article, grazing enterprises.

F.A.R.M. agronomists Jess Bailey and Claudia Benn help graziers increase diversity by implementing multi-species forage systems on operations of all scales. They also trial different multi-species mixes with the resident Dorper herd at F.A.R.M headquarters, Alaringa.

Benefits of introducing multi-species forages


Many producers who introduce multi-species forages see improved weight gains because of the better feed quality and feed efficiency. Along with weight gains, general animal health improves too. This is because multi-species forages offer more than just the standard proteins, energy and micronutrients.

A diversity of plant species accounts for a rich array of secondary compounds and phytochemicals that have much to contribute to stock health.

A diversity of plant species accounts for a rich array of secondary compounds and phytochemicals that have much to contribute to stock health. There is research showing that livestock are able to self-select based on their nutritional requirements. Because of this, a greater diversity of forage species leads to better overall animal health. Additionally, new lines of research are finding that livestock can even self-medicate both therapeutically and prophylactically for occurrences of disease or parasites.


F.A.R.M. agronomists Jess Bailey and Claudia Benn examining two brassica species in their multi-species mix.

As well as a positive effect on stock health, introducing diversity to pasture has long-term benefits to the soil. A variety of plants means that there will be a variety of root structures in the soil profile.

Some plants, such as tillage radishes, have long roots that can access deeper parts of the soil, bring up nutrients such as sulphur, and then make it available for other plants. Legumes release acidic exudates from their roots that increase phosphorus solubilisation. Other plants, such as cereal rye and oats, have fibrous root systems that stabilise the soil against erosion and allow for better water infiltration. Each species plays a role in the pasture, creating an amazing synergistic response.

Soil carbon:

Introducing a multi-species forage is now one of the methods that Australian farmers can implement to be eligible for carbon projects that offer additional income streams.

Multi-species forages can also allow for better carbon sequestration. Different plant species stimulate a broader range of soil biology. This enhances biological processes, including nutrient cycling and plant resilience. Better plant health and biomass result in improved photosynthesis and increased root exudates which feed the biology and facilitate carbon sequestration.


As well as structural, chemical and biological benefits to the soil, the land as a whole benefits from increased diversity. A multi-species forage crop will flower at different times and attract pollinators and other beneficial insects that keep pest populations low. Diversity will also reduce risk, as different species thrive in different seasons and persist through into future seasons. This means that if one species does not grow well due to conditions or pests, there will still be fodder available. Additionally, greater diversity leads to higher rates of plant succession, reducing bare ground and weed pressure.

Ultimately these benefits to stock, the soil and the land lead to increased productivity and, therefore, more profitability and farmer well-being.

How to implement a Multi-species Forage

Depending on the state of the existing pasture, multi-species forages can be implemented in several ways. To improve an existing perennial pasture stand, the team at F.A.R.M. recommend drilling in some additional diversity with more perennial species and even some annuals. If it is already a productive paddock with good soil health, incorporating a diverse range of perennial grasses, legumes and herbages can further improve the quality of the pasture.

The success of any strategy is entirely reliant on how grazing pressure and rest periods are managed.

If the pasture is rundown and dominated by undesirable species, a succession model needs to be implemented. A succession model distributes plantings across several seasons, starting with annuals and later incorporating perennial species. Annuals are generally considered to be lower succession species; their role in this system is to get living roots in the ground and start nutrient cycling, which improves the soil for future seasons. Later, as the soil improves, farmers can move up the succession ladder and perennials can be introduced. Of course, the success of any strategy is entirely reliant on how grazing pressure and rest periods are managed.

What to include in a multi-species mix

Multi-species forage mixes are not a one-size-fits-all solution. The composition of a mix should depend on the climate, soil type and the season as well as desired outcomes for the pasture and stock. There are five plant families commonly included in multi-species mixes: grasses and cereals, legumes, sunflowers and asters, brassicas and chenopods. To achieve the best results, the team at F.A.R.M. suggest incorporating at least one species from each of the five plant families. A standard multi-species mix is generally comprised of 60-70% cereal and grasses, 20-30% legumes and 5-10% a combination of sunflowers, brassicas and chenopods.


Cereals and grasses make up the bulk of the feed. Often species from this family are used in monoculture forage crops in traditional farming setups. It is estimated that nearly all pastures in Australia are dominated by this family. As well as offering good metabolisable energy and crude protein for livestock, cereals and grasses are great at stabilising the soil. They have fibrous root systems which protect soil from erosion and help with water infiltration. Cereals and grasses also add a good amount of biomass to the soil and exude sugars from their roots, which feed and stimulate the microbiome.


Legumes are a family of broadleaf or dicot plants that are highly palatable and offer good protein for stock. They include species like clover, medic and lucerne. Legumes have the unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen due to the Rhizobium bacteria, which live in nodules attached to the plant root systems. Legumes also release acidic exudates from their roots that increase phosphorus solubilisation, thereby reducing the need for synthetic inputs.


Species from the sunflower and aster family have strong tap roots that penetrate deep and encourage water and air movement through the soil. Their roots will also bring up nutrients from greater depths, making them available to other crops. Several species from this family, including sunflowers and safflowers attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Research also indicates that chicory can help reduce worm load in stock.


Brassicas include radishes, turnips and swedes. They offer good metabolisable energy and crude protein but also play an important role in soil health. Brassicas can be very helpful in pasture improvement programs. Some species of brassicas, like radishes, are deep-rooted and can bust down through hard pans and improve soil structure. They can also access nutrients and moisture deep within the soil profile and bring them up to the surface for nutrient cycling. Then when the leaves are eaten by cattle, the root systems decompose in the soil, leaving valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, zinc and sulphur to help future crops.


The chenopod family includes spinach, beet and chard. Chenopods can be fantastic calcium accumulators, which is crucial for the photosynthesis and nutrient absorption of plants. Chenopods exudate phenolic compounds from their roots which assist with the resilience and strength of other plants. They also stimulate soil biology, which accelerates the benefits and soil changes from other plants.

Multi-species mix example

Below is an example of the winter multi-species forage used on F.A.R.M. HQ, Alaringa:


Cereal rye, oats, triticale, forage wheat, rye grass


Field peas, lucerne, medic, vetch


Safflower, chicory


Radish, mammoth purple top turnip


Red chard

How to get started

Before you begin implementing changes, do your research. There's plenty of information and resources available to delve into before you get started. Go to field days, talk to others in your area that might be experimenting with multi-species forages, and check out other resources online.

It's important to be clear on the outcomes you want to achieve with a multi-species forage. Are you wanting to grow as much biomass as possible, break up hardpans or fix nitrogen? Your desired outcomes will influence the species and ratios that make up your multi-species mix.

Your desired outcomes will influence the species and ratios that make up your multi-species mix.

Talk to agronomists with experience in putting together multi-species mixes. They will be able to help you find seed mixes suited to your environment and soil type and pick species that will help you achieve your goals.

Be open to trialling and experimenting. Every season and every paddock will need a slightly different approach. Start trialling your mixes in a smaller paddock before scaling up. Be patient as you experiment and discover a system that works for your needs.

Finally, consider your management practices. Grazing management is key to the long-term success and productivity of any forage or pasture.