Scottish trials on grazing winter cereals with sheep show the potential for earlier drilling dates, better pest/disease control and increased yield potential.

This is according to recent results from a trial carried out Graham and Iain Wilkinson’s mixed enterprise, Balgay Farm.

The trial consisted of two one-hectare blocks drilled with winter wheat, winter barley and winter oats.

Each crop block was split down the middle with an electric fence and sheep were allowed to graze one half, but not the other.

We were concerned we had been too hard on the winter barley and it would have a detrimental impact on the crop

Mr Wilkinson said that the results from the trials were very promising and demonstrated that the grazing of winter cereals can provide valuable winter forage for sheep and also have a beneficial impact on crop yield.

He added: “We introduced sheep to the crops at the end of October 2018 and they ate the winter barley right down to the bone before moving onto the winter wheat and winter oats.

“We were concerned we had been too hard on the winter barley and it would have a detrimental impact on the crop.

“However, come August, when the crop was combined, the results for the winter barley, in particular, proved to be very positive with an increased yield of around 0.5-0.75t/ha on the grazed strip.”

Weather struggles

Mr Lindsay went on to say many farmers on heavier land in Scotland struggle to get winter crops drilled on time due to the short and often-wet weather window experienced between September and October. Also, grazing sheep could allow for an earlier drilling date to be achievable without affecting the crop.

“Traditionally, Iain Wilkinson would begin sowing winter crops around the first week of September, but with the farm situated on very flat, heavy, coarse clay, the land can often be affected by heavy rain.

“This year we decided to bring the sowing date forward to 17 August, with the aim of getting all the crops in the ground before the weather broke and not being force to drill the problem fields last as is usually the case.

“Sheep have recently been put onto this early-sown wheat to graze back the leaves and hold growth development, whist at the same time adding some biology to the field.”

The project, which looked at grazing winter cereals with sheep, started as a Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group, facilitated by Peter Lindsay and Zach Riley of SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).