A group of dairy farmers have designed a trial to explore the best management techniques for their herbal ley mixes.
Most of the group members have been working with herbal leys for a number of years, but they want to understand how to manage them to get the very best high nutrient sward throughout the season. Optimising species composition, forage regrowth and sward longevity is crucial, and then understanding the nutritional content of the forage their cows are grazing. Their aim is to improve their livestock resilience by home-growing nutrients.
Chris Freeth, who hosted the kick-off meeting, explained: “We are confident that there are benefits to the herbal leys we’re using on-farm, but we’re basing that confidence on our own observations and assumptions. That’s why we decided to run a field lab; hopefully it will give us valuable results to show what we’re doing is working, and it will help us improve our approach going forward. It’s more difficult to achieve that just by ourselves, but we can do it with the support of the field lab.”
Herbal leys have a long historical use and research has found potential in plants, such as chicory as a prebiotic and legumes containing tannin to help reduce gastro-intestinal disease. Added potential benefits can include improving soil structure through deep rooting, or increasing protein content and nitrogen fixation.
For this field lab, which is being sponsored by BBSRC, the group will be using different lengths of grazing period to establish the ideal duration for maintaining diversity and longevity of the sward. They will also assess the diversity of species, the weight of forage produced and its nutritional content to determine what is the best grazing approach for their farm. The group will begin their trials in spring.