Herbal Leys Dairy Group

This group is interested in looking at a range of herbal leys in dairy systems for both soil and herd health. The core trial group is made up of c. 10 dairy farmers, the majority already having some experience of herbal leys on their farms. Ranging from a few fields to the whole farm in diverse mixes. These diets on these farms are highly dependent on forage with low level concentrates being fed. Therefore maximising national value of the sward, through longevity of species diversity and repaid regrowth of sward is very important.

Group Topic

Using diverse species mixes

This challenge focusses on the potential of using diverse species mixes for leys or crops, for wide ranging benefits, such as fertility building, weed competition, environmental resilience, improving habitat for pollinators and livestock nutrition. Topic image (c) ORC

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    Initial results and next steps -

    The group will meet to discuss the results that they've managed to gather, any issues with data gathering and the next steps for the field lab.

    University of Reading Centre for Dairy Research

    Hall Farm



    Data collection method meeting -


    The researcher has kindly offered to host the group and take us round the diverse forages trial plots.

    Some short films made by the researcher and coordinator will be shown; going through what is needed for the forage sample and data collection for the trial, along with a run through plate metering.

    University of Reading Centre for Dairy Research

    Hall Farm



    Aims setting and methods planning -

    The group including 8 of the farmers, coordinator Kate Still, herbal leys specialist Ian Wilkinson and researcher Anna Tompson met to outline their priorities for the field lab aims and leading on from this their methods.

    Many of the farmers are already growing herbal leys whilst others aren't, bringing a good range of experience to the group. Some have a few year old swards, whilst others have been growing them for several years. Most of the group will be planting new leys this spring of a bespoke mix for their farm, and/or focus grazing management on existing swards of varying ages.

    As those that already grow herbal leys feel confident that they do improve soil health and have benefits to their livestock, the aim focused on determining the following:

    a) What is the nutrient value of the herbal ley swards (at varying ages)

    b) How can the herbal leys be best managed for optimal species diversity, longevity and forage production

    Initial methods looked at giving different lengths of grazing time (one strip longer than another) to evaluate the effects on the sward. Additionally the effect on regrowth of the sward depending on the height of residual left. Farmers will likely take sward cuttings from quadrats to be sent off for nutrient and dry matter analysis ,as well as recording the species present and weighing fresh weight of the forage. These measures will be taken before the cows go in and once removed.

    Some farmers undertake mob grazing whilst others paddock graze, so these differing systems will need to take different approaches to the trial. Weather also influences the growth of the leys, and the farmers will therefore judge when the optimal height of the sward (instead of a fixed number of days grazing) and then have an option which leave a greater residual.

    This methodology is still under progress and the next steps will be to solidify how each farmer undertakes the field lab.

    Seven Tuns Pub



    Herbal leys for dairy cows - Innovative Farmers field lab kick off meeting -

    Topic of interest: The potential role of herbal leys for dairy production

    At this session we will be joined by Ian Wilkinson from Cotswold Seeds to present research information to date on herbal leys and to talk from his own experience of the topic.

    The objective for the day is to explore the potential for herbal leys within dairy production systems, to discuss the merit of carrying out further on-farm trials over the next year or so, and start to tease out what those trials might look like and where they might take place.

    Manor Farm



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