How switch to herbal leys has saved money on Hampshire dairy

Herbal leys are helping create a continual grazing platform even in dry conditions saving money on fertiliser and supplementary feed.

For Hampshire dairy farmer Clyde Jones, switching the whole of his grazing platform to herbal leys has become essential due to the extreme weather he sees.

See also: Get more from summer grazing of dairy cows

Describing Brixeys Farm Dairy near Ringwood, Hampshire, as “the wettest dry farm in the South”, Mr Jones has experienced both flooding and drought, leaving a shortage of summer grazing and driving him to make changes to his 195ha grazing platform.

“We have to have 60 days of feed in the bunker to keep us covered for extreme weather.

“And even though we’ve got it, you still have to start an engine to feed it, increasing costs,” says former Farmers Weekly Farmer Focus writer Mr Jones. 

Herba ley

Mr Jones first trialled herbal leys in 2013 and with milk price forecast less than favourable, he hopes to halve production costs once the entire grazing platform has been resown with a herbal mix.

Farm Facts

  • 195ha grazing platform: 81ha is herbal, the rest is perennial ryegrass – cows move every 12 hours
  • 200ha of water meadows used to graze heifers
  • 500 Jersey cross Friesian cows milked twice a day through a 50 bale rotary parlour
  • Herd average 5,000 litres and 400kg of milk solids a cow a year
  • Calve indoors in February over 12 weeks (80% in the first six)
  • Dry cows outwintered on 10-12ha fodder beet, heifers on 20ha kale, calves on 20ha stubble turnips, plus 1,000 silage bales

The biggest savings will come from reduced fertiliser use and stopping the supplementary feeding of concentrate and forage through any dry spells.

Budgeting £60,000 for fertiliser and the same again for cake, once the herbal leys become established, and the farm makes better use of its manure and slurry, the fertiliser and purchased feed budgets should be halved.

See also: New Zealand grazing optimises grass use

Currently supplementing milkers with 3-4kg a head of silage and concentrates in the summer dry period, Mr Jones expects to replace this with herbal leys, which tolerate the drier conditions due to their deeper and more varied root systems.

And the money saved here can be spent on more herbal seeds – offsetting these costs with additional health benefits, he says.

He also believes these new mixes are better for stock fertility and will improve milk constituents.

“We normally have an empty rate of 16-18% over 12 weeks for our cows and 10% for the heifers.

“This year the rates have fallen to 8.5% for the cows and 6.5% for the heifers.

“It may be anecdotal, but both groups grazed the herbal leys,” he adds.

Cows grazing

Although a big drive on improving fertility has been taking place, Mr Jones believes the trace elements within the herbal ley could be partly responsible for these improvements.

During the ley establishment Mr Jones has tried and tested a range of cultivation methods into land of varying prior use. The table below describes the different techniques.

Herbal ley establishment on Brixeys Farm, Hampshire




Previous land use

Soil preparation

Drilling method

Fertiliser application

Grazing management and observations

Spring 2013


Overwintered ryegrass stubble

Spring tined cultivated

Direct drilled in March with herbal mix plus 10kg/ha ryegrass

500 kg/ha lime supplement and

150 kg/ha calcified ammonium nitrate (CAN)

Grazed for one week at the beginning of July, September and November.

Covers were 3,000kg DM/ha on entry in July.

Leys grew 30kg DM/ha/day between the first two grazings, when perennial ryegrass was burning up.

Autumn 2013


Hard grazed perennial ryegrass – 1,200kg DM/ha cover remaining

Deep leg cultivated

Stitched in to existing ryegrass and then rolled

100kg/ha CAN in September.

Second dressing of 150kg/ha CAN in March 2014.

6t/ha compost spread in October 2014.

Rainfall saw ryegrass come through first, but this balanced out by spring.

Began on a 30 day rotation, but dropped to 28 days after 20C soil temps caused fast growth rates of 27kg DM/ha/day compared to 20kg DM/ha/day for ryegrass.

Was grazing down to 1,500kg DM/ha covers to prevent chicory from bolting. This caused lower milk yields as cocksfoot, lucerne and red clover did not have time to establish.

Switched to a 60 day rotation and milk yields improved.

Autumn 2014



Sprayed off, deep leg cultivated then slit aerated – set to an aggressive angle.

Dedicated herbal ley plus 1kg/ha ryegrass sowed with a grass harrow and rolled.

3t/ha high calcium lime

150 kg /ha CAN

Oversown with a cover crop of Italian ryegrass that will be taken off for silage.

Switched to a grass harrow as some plants may have been lost by drilling too deeply, however also learned that more time is needed for certain plants to establish.

Autumn 2014


Winter wheat stubble

Deep leg cultivated

Grass harrowed

150kg CAN

3t/ha high calcium lime

Oversown with a cover crop of Italian ryegrass that will be taken off for silage

The most recently area sown will provide some interesting comparisons later this year says Mr Jones, whose next challenge is to try herbal silage making.

However, the herbal ley should be considered with care. Intensive grazing systems and those on a litres contract may not see the benefits, warns Mr Jones, whose stocking densities have been reduced from 3 cows/ha to 2.5/ha to give the ley a better chance at establishing.

Key lessons learned

  • Be patient – don’t worry if herbal leys get away
  • Chicory may reach 2m tall, but even if just stem is left the leaves will come again
  • Ryegrass can provide valuable grazing on the shoulders of the season
  • Ryegrass can provide more density to protect the ley while it establishes
  • Herbal leys have deeper roots and can tolerate drier conditions
  • 60 day rotations are needed to allow all plants to come through 

 Seed mix for four year dual purpose herbal ley

  • 3 kg cocksfoot
  • 2kg timothy
  • 2kg meadow fescue
  • 1.25kg tall fescue
  • 3.5kg red clover
  • 1kg aslike clover
  • 1.5kg birdsfoot trefoil
  • 8kg sainfoin
  • 1kg crimson clover
  • 2kg chicory
  • 0.5kg plaintain
  • 3.5kg lucerne
  • 0.25kg yarrow forage herd
  • 1.25kg burnet forage herb
  • 0.5kg Sheeps parsley forage herb
  • 1kg white clover
  • 1kg tetraploid perennial ryegrass
  • 5kg tetraploid Italian ryegrass