The Benefits of Herbal Grass Leys

Countryside Stewardships Schemes (CSS) can offer an array of land-based options. One that I am finding to be extremely popular and beneficial financially (providing an annual income of £309/ha), environmentally and to the health and well-being of livestock is the Legume and Herb Rich Swards (coded GS4 under CSS).

The herbal ley is a complex seed mixture of legumes, herbs and grasses which bring a range of benefits to forage, livestock health and soil fertility. This particular mix includes over 13 species, but it can include more. It provides a vigorous sward with abundant legumes and herbs, suitable for productive cattle and sheep, as well as providing habitat and food for invertebrates, including crop pollinators, and improving soil structure and water infiltration.

To establish a herbal ley, it should be sown to no more than 1cm in depth and rolled to ensure soil to seed contact. They can be slow to emerge however, herbal leys fit well into arable rotations, with 30% legumes they will be self-sustaining, building soil carbon, fixing nitrogen and mobilising phosphate for the next crop.

From an animal nutrition perspective, livestock are very content on herbal leys, but they must be carefully managed particularly due to the red clover content within this ley. Livestock naturally select the most palatable plants, so if you are not careful, they can graze certain species hard therefore, it is best to rotationally graze fields rather than set-stock animals to allow it to be grazed evenly and rested.

Anthelmintic properties from certain species such as Chicory, Sainfoin and Birdsfoot Trefoil help to reduce the worm burden in livestock creating less reliance on artificial wormers and a saving on costs. The mix of species also ensures a longer growing season. The diverse leys have larger root systems so provide additional carbon capture deep down in the soil and help to break up soil compaction. The deep-rooted herbs, particularly chicory dig deep for important nutrients and minerals, making them available to grazing livestock and lowering the need for concentrates – another cost saving.

Under CSS, the fields should be left empty for 5 weeks to allow for sufficient recovery. This is a slightly longer rotation than ryegrass, but it will provide a lot more nutrition. The high legume content of these leys reduces the need for expensive artificial nitrogen, since they fix their own N, feeding the other grasses and herbs in the mixture, and again helping to reduce costs.

To discuss herbal leys and how to incorporate them within your CSS agreement, please contact Steph at stephemmerson@fcgagric.com or your local FCG Office.

Posted in Arable & Crops, Business Management, Chippenham, Dairy & Forage, Grant Funding.