Archive: Herbal leys - a farmers experience

Published 1 August 14

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Following on from the article ‘Is there an alternative to Perennial Ryegrass?’ in the previous issue of Forage for Knowledge, Clyde Jones, who manages 500 crossbred cows near Ringwood in Hampshire, explains why herbal leys play an important part in his forage management.

“This is a really dry farm, and we do suffer with the conditions,” says Clyde. “Our rotationally grazing system does ‘buy’ us extra growth over the summer but, even so, grass did burn up in August.

“Last year, we put in 16 hectares of a mixed herbal ley (see below for seed mix), as a kind of trial. It was direct drilled into stubble in late March, and was up and was first grazed at the beginning of July. It performed well in our dry conditions, providing 30kg of DM/ha/day growth across the dry July/August period.

“We know the soil here is depleted, with low organic matter in the top four inches of soil. However, analysis of forage from the herbal ley showed the plants, with their long roots, had been able to tap into the nutrients below that level.

“This year we put a further 45 hectares into herbal ley for grazing, by directly drilling into existing leys of perennial ryegrass in the autumn, as well as two further-off lying areas, for conservation and youngstock. This means 85 hectares of the 260 we have are down to herbal leys. An indication of how impressed we’ve been.

“Herbal leys provide a lower feed cost for us, as you can pretty much leave it alone and it performs so well. With perennial ryegrass, we had the added expense of pre-mowing, topping, nitrogen, etc.

“This year, we have struggled to get a pure herbal ley as the perennial ryegrass is determined to come back. We’re looking to alter the seed mix in the ley, with the inclusion of more legumes, to aid production, but the deep roots mean the plant performance is very good in our dry conditions.” 

Herbal ley seed mix 

17 Hectares Special 'HERBAL' Dual Purpose Four Year Ley

3.75kg (63.75) certified Prairial cocksfoot

2.00kg (34) certified Rossa meadow fescue

1.25kg (21.25) certified Kora tall fescue

1.88kg (31.875) certified Altaswede red clover

1.25kg (21.25) certified Dawn alsike clover

0.25kg (4.25) certified Rocco birdsfoot trefoil

2.50kg (42.5) commercial Sainfoin

2.50kg (42.5) commercial sweet clover

2.25kg (38.25) certified Puna II chicory

3.13kg (53.125) Burnet forage herb

0.63kg (10.625) Yarrow forage herb

0.50kg (8.5) Sheeps Parsley forage herb

0.50kg (8.5) Ribgrass forage herb

0.25kg (4.25) certified Hobson forage rape

Total 22.64kg/ha

10-12kg/ha of a ryegrass/timothy/white clover mix was added to the above mix.