Friday, 23 September 2011

Herbal Clover Pastures Challenge Our Concept of What a Dairy Pasture Looks Like

The dawning of a new age OR a Storm of Innovation?
A group of very innovative pasture based dairyfarmers in the UK are challenging our concept of what a pasture looks like. Farmers are experimenting with Herbal Clover pastures. Lots of different mixes of herbs with white clover to provide the nitrogen. Over the past two weeks I've been very lucky to work with 2 french groups (one farmer group from Brittany & an Organic Dairy Advisers group from Normandy) visiting SW England. We were on both conventional & organic pasture based dairy farms.
On one Dorset farm new herbal leys that contain either Choice Chicory plus Clover or Tonic Plantain  plus clover looked very impressive. 
These were direct drilled into an old poor grass pasture during the dry spring. To date they are growing twice the average pasture growth rates of the rest of the farm & more than 3x the dry matter has been harvested off these fields over summer compared to the old pasture. There is a massive difference in the quality of the pastures....the chicory is averaging 20% crude protein & 13 ME. The milking cows are grazing it every 20 days compared to every 60 days last year. We believe the cows are harvesting approx 1500kgs DM/ha at each grazing. The Chicory is slightly outperforming the Plantain but there is little difference in the milk response when the cows are grazing these herbal pastures.
The Breton group debated if the grazing rotation could even have been quicker i.e. put the cows in on shorter Chicory.
The grazing utilization has been excellent.
The Tonic Plantain plus White Clover (Photo pre grazing)
What I'm not convinced works is adding chicory to a grass pasture mix. I think every grazing is a compromise. You are either grazing too early or too late for one of the species. I would NOT advise a grass/ chicory mix. I know many farmers have been advised to do this but I disagree with this approach. 
However on two different organic pasture dairy farms we saw Mixed Herbal Pastures with either Red Cover or White Clover. Both were very impressive. At one farm the Herbal/Clover Pasture was being grazed by the milking cows. The milkers were fully utilizing the herbal pasture & milk increased every time they grazed it.
At the second organic farm we saw a Mixed Herbal Pasture that had been left to mature & flower which was being block grazed by dry cows about to calve this autumn. This stored Autumn Herbal Pasture was quite a full flower & waist high. The Chicory & red Clover were dominant but there was a real mix of other herbs too.
We were impressed how the dry cows were grazing it right out. There was also an astonishing number of birds flying & feeding off the insects above the Herbal Pasture.
The cows were in terrific condition & there were no metabolic problems at calving. Although the protein & energy must be quite high there was plenty of fibre in the tall stalks which the cows were grazing to 5 cm.
We also saw Chicory being used to reseed areas of damaged pasture where there was bare ground. The Chicory established quickly & the clover filled the gaps.
Many areas of England have been very dry this year..................its time to re think what pasture is on a dairy farm. I think we need to move on from just ryegrass & clover. There maybe better options. Many of these herbal pastures can be sown at different times of the year.
I think as innovative farmers experiment we will learn that these Herbal Pastures can be very productive NOT just for COWS BUT for the SOIL & the ENVIRONMENT too.
Current UK Pasture Measurements
Still dry in the Midlands of England with decreasing day length & night temperatures. Extreme wet causing problems in other areas with track problems & pasture damage.
It seems "Life wasn't meant to be easy!"
Roll on 2012
The Average Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth Rates (kgsDM/ha/day)
South Ayrshire, Scotland, AFC 2378, growth 24, demand 19, suppl 38kg DM/ha, Gone onto OAD cos of track conditions, white line problems
Cumbria, 2467, gr30, Soil temp 13.2 degrees, V wet tracks a challenge, monitoring BCS
Northern Ireland, 2359,(target 2500), gr 53, de 38 have fed heavily,Dept plot shows soil moisture deficit reducing now feeding 3kg conc & grass only
Nth Wales, 2261, growth 45, demand 43
Shropshire, 2405, gr 50, 35mm rain......10miles away only 10mm, 0 growth,
Shropshire, 1700, gr 20, demand 9, still very dry, going to be an expensive winter
Hereford, 2282, gr 30, de 18, 11mm rain, cover increasing slowly, growth better further down wedge
Hereford, 2100, gr 23 (total demand 52), suppl 30, grass allocation 22, still V dry no chance of building covers.
Pembrokeshire organic, 2311, gr 46, de 26, milk taken a dive to 11 litres need to stop decrease
Pembrokeshire, Milking area 2515, gr 69, de 47. Heifer area...3113, gr 47, de 27 still wet & mild
Dorset, 2745, gr 61, de 43, some rust in paddocks now
Hampshire, AFC 2878, growth 78, demand 38
East Sussex, 2200, gr 40, 70% calved in 3 weeks getting easier to watch rugby!!
Cornwall, AFC 2700, gr 53, de 40, heifers coming home early to sort out
Limerick, Ireland, 2900, gr 46, de 40, feeding 2kg conc Still celebrating! Getting up early Sunday!
South Kilkenny, Ireland, 2207, gr 42, de 30, Scan cows 4% empty after 11 weeks Great result!
Nth Germany organic, 1835, decreasing growth 25, demand 27, wet making life difficult pasture damage impossible to build covers. Disappointed with USA result but C'Mon ABs!! 


  1. Great Blog Tom, I fully agree, well run, profitable, pasture based farms will be the ones with diversity in the paddock in the future.

  2. Hi Tom,

    I have to disagree with the Chicory/grass mix. We have found this more beneficial for milking cows as the grass gives you a carpet to lie on. Or you are lying on dirt, not good for mastitis reasons. We also found a weed problem develops without the grass about. Also you have no grazing from November through till May, as chicory dormant till soil temperature warms up.