Better performance on Co Down farm with herbal leys

Dale Orr and Andrew Thompson discussing the establishment of his herbal leys on his farm near Strangford Co Down.

By Andrew Thompson,

CAFRE Business Development Group Specialist Technical Facilitator, AI Services

DALE Orr is an organic beef and sheep farmer, farming close to Strangford, County Down.

The farm carries a flock of 350 purebred Lleyn ewes and a herd of 80 mainly Hereford X suckler cows. The lambs are all sold deadweight and the calves are finished as beef.

Dale focuses on maximising production from forage and minimising concentrate usage. The grazing swards contain a high percentage of white clover and the silage swards contain red clover. Dale commented: “Clover has played a key role in the grassland management of this farm.” Turnips are also grown to overwinter ewes and cows.

Last year, following discussion at his Business Development Group meeting, Dale decided to sow 30 acres of ‘herbal leys’ as a trial, to see how they performed against his red clover swards. The group recently walked the new leys and although sceptical about the high content of herbs which they perceived to be ‘weeds’ in the sward, were most impressed with the performance figures presented by Dale for the stock being grazed. From his observations Dale is finding that the lambs finish much quicker and that they graze ‘cleaner,’ requiring minimal worm dosing on his farm.

Herbal leys or multi-species swards are a combination of plants made up of legumes such as red and white clover, herbs such as plantain or chicory and ryegrass or timothy. The advantage is that the animals have a choice with different plants growing at different periods of the year, legumes can fix nitrogen and herbs can act as an anthelmintic reducing the need for dosing. The added advantage is that the herbs and clovers are highly digestible which drives liveweight gains and improves killout percentage.

Herbal leys need to be grazed rotationally, with management influenced by the sward mix. Care is needed with establishment as weed control can be a problem in poorly established swards and very few spray options are available. Animals should ideally spend the whole season on this sward to minimise growth checks or bloat risks.

Dale’s business development group has discussed and debated many interesting topics during its meetings.


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