Farmer Focus: Success and failure can be just days apart

The recent dry weather has been kind on the sheep and soil conditions, as the flock graze the last of the multispecies cover crops before spring drilling commences.

Conditions were not so favourable when they began grazing in early January. It is amazing how much longer the grazing lasts when ground conditions are dry.

See also: Farmers asked to send in slugs for feeding analysis

About the author

Richard Harris
Richard Harris manages his family farm in partnership with his father in south Devon. The farm grows wheat, barley, linseed, grass and cover crops, with a small pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
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The fear of overgrazing and compaction is always on our mind, so we ensure we are on the front foot when it comes to moving. The difference between success and failure is sometimes just one or two days apart.

We find about 50% of cover above ground biomass is lost during the winter months of December and January. Thankfully, enough remains to keep the sheep happy and they seemed to perform on the diversity of forage.

For reference, we quantify the happiness of the sheep by how many times they escaped the electric fences during grazing. This year was a satisfying zero!

Having dug soil profile pits pre- and post-grazing, it seems there is a light compaction line around 40mm down, which we’ve found common from sheep grazing.

This is something we will address with a light discing before the spring linseed, to break this compaction, aid establishment and seeding depth. 

Our seven-way cover crop mix of beans, buckwheat, phacelia, vetch, kale, turnips and volunteer barley ended up with only phacelia, vetch, kale and turnips by the time the frost and winter took its toll.

As the sheep finished up the covers and grass it was time to consider if we were to graze the wheat and barley this year.

This threw up quite the dilemma, as both crops are not looking particularly forward or full of disease. In fact, I think the frosts have done the job for us.

Plants are hardy, with a prostrate growth appearance and very little disease.

Maybe a split field trial would have been beneficial, but I don’t think disease and canopy management was required this year as it has been in previous years.  

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