The yield response of grass swards to fertilizer nitrogen (N) differs under cutting and grazing, as grazing cattle exert positive and negative effects on pasture production, with varying negative effects on different soil types. Nevertheless, current N fertilization recommendations in the Netherlands are based mainly on economic cost-benefit analyses of long-term cutting trials in small plots. To contribute to formulation of improved N fertilizer recommendations for grassland, experiments were carried out on two soil types and under different management regimes. The effect of fertilizer N application on grassland production and sward quality in perennial ryegrass swards was studied during a number of consecutive years under both rotational grazing and 4-weekly cutting. Experiment 1 was performed with dairy cows on a loam soil at 250 and 550 kg fertilizer N ha-1 yr-1. Experiment 2 was performed with beef cattle on a sand soil and fertilizer rates varying from 250 to 700 kg N ha-1 yr-1 under grazing and from 0 to 700 kg N ha-1 yr-1 under cutting. The results indicate that on loam, N had no effect on sward quality. In the second experimental year, total herbage yield under grazing was almost 10% higher than under cutting at 250 kg N ha-1 yr-1 due to recycling of N, whereas at 550 kg N ha-1 yr-1 the yield under grazing and cutting was the same. On sand, the economically optimum fertilizer application rate was on average 430 kg N ha-1 yr-1 for 4-weekly cutting. Under grazing and at whole system level (integrated grazing and mowing for silage), the optimum rate was below 250 kg N ha-1 yr-1. Under grazing on the sand soil, N aggravated sward deterioration due to treading, poaching and especially urine scorching. This was reflected in an increased absence frequency of rooted perennial ryegrass tillers in quadrats with an area of 1 dm2 at increasing fertilizer N application rates. It is concluded that current fertilizer N recommendations for grassland can be further refined by taking into account the positive and negative effects of grazing cattle, in dependence of soil type and level of N supply.