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Getting More from cover crops through grazing

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- Farmers Guardian

Knowledge is growing about how to select suitable cover crop species for different farm circumstances, including grazing, as growers attend a recent demonstration day heard.

Cover Crop Drill Waddingworth Open Day March 2019 Farmacy wide image

Improved nutrient availability a key benefit

Using sheep to graze cover crops was increasing in popularity, however, selecting suitable species for grazing and using appropriate methods were important in making this a success.

Speaking at a cover crops demonstration day held by Farmacy in Lincolnshire, company agronomist Rebecca Creasey said the main benefits of grazing sheep on cover crops were improved nutrient availability for following crops, residue management and better soil structure.

 

Nutrition

Ms Creasey said: "It is important to mob graze five or six hectares with 400-500 ewes for three to seven days.

'Mob grazing allows for uniform residue destruction, which leads to an even distribution of readily available nutrition and reduces compaction over the field, preventing animal tracks and poaching, which can cause significant yield loss in the following crop.”

In terms of species selection, Ms Creasey said legumes were good for nitrogen fixing, supplying protein for livestock and had good root anchorage.

She said: "Cereals provide good cover over the area and hold the soil together, as well as being nutritious for livestock. Buckwheat is poisonous to sheep, so do not include this, and phacelia can be unpalatable. Forage rape is good it is fast-growing and produces a large amount of biomass. However, be careful of its inclusion where oil-seed rape is already in the rotation.

"Get the crop drilled as soon as possible so there is enough feed value for grazing. There is a financial benefit in that cover crop land provides feed value for livestock and, therefore, chargeable grazing land. This can often cover the cost of the cover crop seed.

“If grazed correctly, one less cultivation pass is required as there is less biomass to manage.”