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Cows grazing

Soil health benefits of herbal ley mixtures

The use of herbal leys

Within an integrated farming system, herbal leys can enable farmers to reduce input expenditure and improve soil health. Herbal leys have become more popular in recent years, although farmers have actually been planting grasses and pasture plants such as clovers and deep-rooting herbs like plantain and chicory for a long time.

They were traditionally planted to provide nutritious grazing for cattle and sheep, but they also helped to enrich the soil, something that is now a top priority for our farms.

Cope Seeds and Grain has its own bespoke herbal ley mix, which, in addition to Hybrid and Perennial Ryegrass, also includes Cocksfoot, Timothy, Meadow Fescue, a range of legumes including Red and White Clover, Alsike, Sweet Clover and Birdsfoot Trefoil plus Sheeps Parsley, Burnet, Plantain, Chicory and Yarrow.

“Since Defra’s 25-year environmental plan was released, many farmers are reintroducing grass leys into arable rotations in a bid to improve soil health and we’re adding another option to their armoury,” says Simon Travers, grass and small seeds manager at Cope Seeds.

“Soil health also features heavily in the revised Agricultural Bill, issued early in 2020.

The diverse mixture from Cope Seeds is formulated to produce a sward ideal for grazing or cutting, but the additional benefits to soil structure, nitrogen fixation and mineral and protein content are well documented. Many of the herbs have strong root systems and can help to store carbon deep down in the soil as well as naturally helping to break up soil compaction, says Simon.

Simon explains that as well as helping to improve soil structure, herbs draw up essential vitamins and minerals for ruminant animals. “For example, Plantain is a good source of Calcium, Sodium and Copper. Animal health is supported by the anti-worming nature of several herbaceous flowering plants and Chicory1 has been proven to reduce faecal egg counts in lambs and could reduce the use of Anthelmintics.

This mixture is available in both organic and non-organic forms from Cope Seeds, which also offers an extensive range of organic and conventional grass seed.