Mixed species swards are giving good animal performance results on Dale Orr’s organic farm near Strangford, Co Down.
Used as grazing for both cattle and sheep, the performance of lambs from his 450 Lleyn ewe flock is particularly impressive.
A 25ac block established in 2018, using six species with intermediate and late perennial ryegrass, white and red clover, chicory and plantain, has given daily liveweight gains for fattening lambs of 270g per day. This compares to 250g per day for lambs on perennial ryegrass and white clover swards.
In terms of days to finish at 21kg deadweight, lambs on the herbal ley achieved the weight in 146 days. This is an impressive 16% improvement when compared to 172 days for lambs on ryegrass and white clover swards. These results were achieved with no meal feeding. Dale has found the sward recovers well after grazing and is ready again after six weeks of re-growth.
To push on with the idea, Dale planted a pure herbal ley on 11ac in 2020 with two red clovers, white clover, chicory and plantain, with redstart as the nurse crop.
In addition to elevated growth rates in his lambs, the ley has reduced the need for worm treatments in the lambs.
This herbal ley is giving growth rates in lambs of 350g per day (not far from the 400g per day achieved on similar swards in New Zealand).
In an effort to cope better with low rainfall and drought conditions, (and as part of a European Innovation Partnership project running to 2023 with AgriSearch, QUB, AFBI and six farmers), Dale established a 14.6ac sward in April 2021.
It contains the drought tolerant grass cocksfoot, along with meadow fescue, timothy, red and white clovers, chicory and plantain, with redstart being the nurse crop.
With lamb growth measurements, Dale will be able to compare performance on this sward against his existing herbal leys and ryegrass, white clover swards and will see how it performs in dry conditions.
On the Orr farm, herbal leys fit well with the arable rotation. They reduce fertiliser use and carbon sequestration is improved.
The deep rooting nature of the herbs improves soil structure and copes better with drought conditions. And Dale Orr has seen improved growth rates in his lambs and a reduction in the need for anthelmintics.
In terms of sward life for herbal leys, Dale is expecting a five-year life. The swards are rested for 100 days during the winter.