One of the main challenges of using a silvopastoral system (SPS) is maintaining pasture and animal productivity over time. Our objective was to compare the productive characteristics and nutritive value of signal grass (Brachiaria decumbens cv. Basilisk) and the liveweight gain of dairy heifers in a SPS and open pasture (OP, signal grass under full sunlight) during the rainy seasons of four experiments between 2003 and 2016, which characterised systems from their 6th to 19th years after establishment in south-eastern Brazil when analysed together. The experimental design was a randomised complete block in a 2 × 4 factorial scheme (two production systems (SPS and OP) and four experiments (2003–2004, 2004–2007, 2011–2014 and 2014–2016)). From the 7th year onwards, the progressive reduction of photosynthetically active radiation negatively impacted the productive characteristics of the SPS pasture. Total forage mass was reduced by 19% in SPS compared with the OP in 2004–2007, 38% in 2011–2014 and 31% in 2014–2016. Crude protein content was 23% and 30% higher in the SPS than in the OP in 2011–2014 and 2014–2016, respectively. However, during the study period (until the 19th year), the liveweight gain of heifers was similar between systems since the higher crude protein content available in SPS contributed to improved forage nutritional value. From the 17th to the 19th year, weight gain per area was lower in the SPS compared with the OP (169 vs 199 kg ha–1), although the difference between systems was small. Signal grass presents a high degree of phenotypic plasticity in response to changes in shade levels, which gives this species a high potential for use in SPS.
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Vol. 70 • No. 9