Herbal leys

Published 14 August 15

In August last year, Forage for Knowledge published an article about Clyde Jones, a dairy farmer near Ringwood in Hampshire, who uses herbal leys to help ‘buy’ more grass for his 500 spring calving cross bred herd. One year on, Clyde explains how he is getting on with the lays, and how he manages them on a daily basis.

Clyde struggles with dry conditions and although all grass can burn off by August, he has been impressed by the performance of his herbal leys. This year, he is growing 100ha of herbal lays, about half the grazing platform.

“We do operate a block of traditional ley pasture and tend to graze the cows on a block of this, followed by a block of the herbal ley. As our herbal leys have perennial ryegrass (PRG) in the mix, we can start grazing it pretty much from the beginning of the season,” says Clyde.

“We are dry here, the main reason we grow herbal leys, and we find that leaving the covers higher, with a stemmeir, higher fibre plant, means the ground doesn’t lose as much moisture. This summer was no exception which affected grass growth and while the PRG seems to have burned up and has gone backwards, the herbal leys have at least held their own.

“We rotationally graze the herbal ley pasture but we manage it slightly differently from our traditional, ideally going in at covers of about 3,000kg DM/ha. We usually go into the more traditional PRG/white clover at about 2,800kg DM/ha. The aim is to leave slightly more behind, about 1,800-2,000kg DM/ha, compared to 1,500-1,600kg DM/ha of the traditional ley. We know the herbal leys are stemmier and we would have to really push the cows to eat down to those levels.

“Herbal leys require a longer rotation, 30 days is about right at the height of the season. I measure grass growth but use it as a guide more than anything else. By this stage of the season, we’re on a 50-day rotation and will expand to 60 or 70 days in the next rotation.

“We have had an issue with Ragwort this year and have been pulling and spot spraying all year but we don’t have any real trouble with pests on the herbal leys, and they are great for pollinators. It keeps the local beekeepers happy and I get great free honey.

“We have dry conditions, not great quality soil and suffer with soil compaction here, but seeing how the roots of the herbal ley have grown down into the tight hard soil is amazing. When swards are incorporated into the soil the organic matter is great. Soil testing results are fantastic, showing just how much herbal leys are improving the longer term health of our soils,” Clyde concludes.