Herbal leys in an organic dairy rotational grazing system [United Kingdom]

technologies_5982 - United Kingdom

Completeness: 84%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
{'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 'Kate Still', 'user_id': '7374', 'unknown_user': False, 'template': 'raw'}
land user:

Turner Stephen

Perridge Farm Partnership

United Kingdom

land user:

Hutchings Nathan

Perridge Farm Partnership

United Kingdom

Name of project which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
European Interreg project FABulous Farmers {'additional_translations': {}, 'value': 6190, 'label': 'Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)', 'text': 'Soil Association (Soil Association) - United Kingdom', 'template': 'raw'}

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


1.4 Declaration on sustainability of the described Technology

Is the Technology described here problematic with regard to land degradation, so that it cannot be declared a sustainable land management technology?


2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Use of diverse herbal leys in dairy production. Provides resilient forage that improves soil health and provides a habitat for biodiversity within a rotational grazing system

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


Perridge and Old Burford Farm is a 182 ha organic dairy and beef farm in Somerset. They established 43 ha of diverse herbal leys on their grazing platform between 2018 and spring 2021. There are a further 16 ha to be sown in autumn 2021 with further developments planned thereafter.

The system initially established a mix of chicory, plantain, ryegrass and clover in Autumn 2018, with further fields including a more complex mix of cocksfoot, Festulolium sp (a natural hybrid of ryegrass and fescue) , ryegrass, timothy, tall and meadow fescue, sainfoin; red, white, alsike and sweet clovers, sainfoin, lucerne, birdsfoot trefoil, burnet, chicory, ribgrass forage herb, yarrow and sheep’s parsley.

The most successful establishment has been from autumn sowing, following ryegrass, into a well prepared seed bed with shallow cultivation. This has led to three to four times more effective germination. To prepare the seed bed, a Cambridge roller was used to form a firm seed-bed and stop seeds going too deep, then seed was sown using a grass harrow and air seeder in August. Soil was rolled again with the Cambridge roller to break up clods of soil and then given a flat-roll to give tight soil-to-seed contact and to conserve moisture. The field is then left untouched until the following spring.

Once established by the following spring, the leys are grazed with 140 organic dairy cows, calves and beef animals. They are grazed using a strip rotation approach where they are moved daily at a target of 4,000kg dry matter (DM)/ha, and graze the herbage down to a residual of 1,800kg DM/ha (minimum residual of 10cm). The minimum full rotation is 35 days but this is often longer.

No artificial inputs are used with these diverse herbal leys, thus adhering to organic standards. The legumes (clover, lucerne, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil) are used to fix nitrogen, and with the grazing approach of “a third eaten, a third trampled and a third remaining as residual feed” soil organic matter is built up. In addition, the deep rooting species draw up minerals, improve soil structure and infiltration, and increase soil organic matter (SOM). Increasing SOM can also increase soil bacteria and microbe activity. Furthermore, managing the system with a rotational, cell grazing approach prevents selective grazing and increases species diversity and longevity of the sward.

Soil health – deep rooting species improve soil structure and infiltration, and through building up organic matter this improves soil carbon sequestration and leads to greater soil microbial activity and improved nutrient cycling. This is particularly important for this site due to mineral deficiency.
Resilient and persistent forage – deep rooting species bring up moisture from deep in the soil.
Mineral-rich forage – there is a high mineral content in ribwort plantain, chicory, sheep’s parsley, yarrow and burnet. Again, root structure helps, mining more minerals from deeper in the soil profile.
Biodiversity improvements - a wider species diversity of flowing plants is beneficial for biodiversity.
Animal health benefits – Anthelmintic properties of some species with a high tannin content, such as chicory, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil, reduce the parasitic worm burden. Also, the way livestock are grazed, with a good residual of forage, reduces soil contact and, therefore, worm risk
There are many positives to herbal leys and these have all been experienced to date, particularly resilient forage production in dry conditions. It currently is too early to see changes in soil structure and health.

The challenge with herbal leys are ensuring successful establishment and selecting the right seed mix. Establishment is reliant on conditions and preparations, with the lifespan of the ley managed through careful grazing by having long rotations and preventing selective grazing. Ensuring you have the correct mix of grasses, herbs and legumes to get the balance of energy and protein is key: there has been some anecdotal experience at this farm of cows not seeming “full” coming off herbal ley, this is thought due to dominance of chicory over grasses.

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment


United Kingdom

Region/ State/ Province:


Further specification of location:

Shepon Mallet

Specify the spread of the Technology:
  • applied at specific points/ concentrated on a small area
Is/are the technology site(s) located in a permanently protected area?


2.6 Date of implementation

Indicate year of implementation:


2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • through land users' innovation
  • through projects/ external interventions

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.1 Main purpose(s) of the Technology

  • improve production
  • reduce, prevent, restore land degradation
  • preserve/ improve biodiversity
  • adapt to climate change/ extremes and its impacts
  • mitigate climate change and its impacts

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied

Land use mixed within the same land unit:


Grazing land

Grazing land

Intensive grazing/ fodder production:
  • Improved pastures
Animal type:
  • cattle - dairy
  • cattle - non-dairy beef
Is integrated crop-livestock management practiced?


Products and services:
  • meat
  • milk

cattle - dairy and beef (e.g. zebu)



3.3 Has land use changed due to the implementation of the Technology?

Has land use changed due to the implementation of the Technology?
  • No (Continue with question 3.4)

3.4 Water supply

Water supply for the land on which the Technology is applied:
  • rainfed

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • pastoralism and grazing land management

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

agronomic measures

agronomic measures

  • A1: Vegetation/ soil cover
vegetative measures

vegetative measures

  • V2: Grasses and perennial herbaceous plants

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

chemical soil deterioration

chemical soil deterioration

  • Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content (not caused by erosion)
physical soil deterioration

physical soil deterioration

  • Pc: compaction
biological degradation

biological degradation

  • Bh: loss of habitats
  • Bs: quality and species composition/ diversity decline
  • Bl: loss of soil life

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • reduce land degradation

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

Specify how costs and inputs were calculated:
  • per Technology area
Indicate size and area unit:


If using a local area unit, indicate conversion factor to one hectare (e.g. 1 ha = 2.47 acres): 1 ha =:

1ha = 2.47 acres

other/ national currency (specify):


If relevant, indicate exchange rate from USD to local currency (e.g. 1 USD = 79.9 Brazilian Real): 1 USD =:


Indicate average wage cost of hired labour per day:


4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. Shallow cultivator x 4 passes August
2. Cambridge Roller August
3. Sow seed with grass harrow and air seeder August
4. Cambridge Roller August
5. Flat Roller August
6. Cows let into graze April

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Equipment Shallow cultivator (up to 4 passes) Ha 1.0 35.0 35.0 50.0
Equipment Cambridge Roller Ha 1.0 20.0 20.0 50.0
Equipment Grass harrow and air seeder Ha 1.0 31.0 31.0 50.0
Equipment Flat roller Ha 1.0 26.0 26.0 50.0
Plant material Herbal ley seed mix Ha 1.0 218.0 218.0 50.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 330.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 440.0
If land user bore less than 100% of costs, indicate who covered the remaining costs:

Supporting projects such as Fabulous Farmers


Contract charge provided so includes labour costs. Cost shown represents the cost per ha. This case study applied on 43 ha.

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. Rotational Strip Grazing 1 day in >35 days April to November

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)


Maintenance through cattle grazing each year for the remaining life of the ley.

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

Seed cost, success of establishment. If establishment fails or is patchy then reseeding or over seeding will be required.
Additionally longevity of sward is an important factor in cost – how many years will the sward last before reseeding is required. Aim minimum 4 -5, but can be up to 9 years

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Specify average annual rainfall (if known), in mm:


Agro-climatic zone
  • sub-humid
  • semi-arid

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • medium (loamy, silty)
  • fine/ heavy (clay)
Soil texture (> 20 cm below surface):
  • medium (loamy, silty)
  • fine/ heavy (clay)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • high (>3%)

5.4 Water availability and quality

Ground water table:

< 5 m

Availability of surface water:


Water quality (untreated):

poor drinking water (treatment required)

Water quality refers to:

surface water

Is water salinity a problem?


Is flooding of the area occurring?


5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • medium
Habitat diversity:
  • medium

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Sedentary or nomadic:
  • Sedentary
Market orientation of production system:
  • commercial/ market
Off-farm income:
  • less than 10% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • average
Individuals or groups:
  • individual/ household
Level of mechanization:
  • mechanized/ motorized
  • women
  • men
Age of land users:
  • middle-aged

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha
Is this considered small-, medium- or large-scale (referring to local context)?
  • medium-scale

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • individual, not titled
Land use rights:
  • individual
Water use rights:
  • individual
Are land use rights based on a traditional legal system?


5.9 Access to services and infrastructure

  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
technical assistance:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
employment (e.g. off-farm):
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
roads and transport:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
drinking water and sanitation:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
financial services:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


fodder production

Comments/ specify:

Good quality and diversity of fodder for grazing cattle. Similar production to grass ley achieved.

fodder quality

Comments/ specify:

Good quality and diversity of fodder for grazing cattle

animal production

Comments/ specify:

Cattle remained healthy and well fed on herbal ley

risk of production failure

Comments/ specify:

More resilient and diverse forage

product diversity

Comments/ specify:

Up to 16 species have been sown as a very diverse seed mix

Socio-cultural impacts

SLM/ land degradation knowledge

Comments/ specify:

Training and SLM expert support has transferred knowledge to land users

Ecological impacts


soil moisture

Comments/ specify:

Deeper rooting and broader leaves have helped maintain soil moisture

soil compaction

Comments/ specify:

No heavy machinery used after sowing in August through to grazing in May.

nutrient cycling/ recharge

Comments/ specify:

Deep rooting varieties can recharge nurtients from depth, while nitrogen fixers can support nutrient cycling

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

plant diversity

Comments/ specify:

Up to 16 species have been sown as a very diverse seed mix

beneficial species

Comments/ specify:

Plant diversity has attracted a greater abundance of beneficial species

Climate and disaster risk reduction

drought impacts

Comments/ specify:

Deeper rooting and broader leaves have helped maintain soil moisture and recycle from deeper soil water

6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

buffering/ filtering capacity


6.3 Exposure and sensitivity of the Technology to gradual climate change and climate-related extremes/ disasters (as perceived by land users)

Gradual climate change

Gradual climate change
Season increase or decrease How does the Technology cope with it?
annual temperature increase well
seasonal rainfall summer decrease well

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:

slightly positive

Long-term returns:


How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:

neutral/ balanced

Long-term returns:

neutral/ balanced

6.5 Adoption of the Technology

  • single cases/ experimental
Of all those who have adopted the Technology, how many did so spontaneously, i.e. without receiving any material incentives/ payments?
  • 0-10%

6.6 Adaptation

Has the Technology been modified recently to adapt to changing conditions?


6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
Improving soil heath and structure, building soil organic matter and improving mineral balance
Resilient forage crop that can cope with longer periods of low rainfall
Nutritious, high mineral content forage that has additional anthelmintic benefits
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Diverse herbal leys have multiple benefits to soil, also perform well in periods of low rainfall – more evidence of soil benefits is required regarding structure and biological cycling
Delivers for biodiversity - through providing flowering plants for pollinators and allowing diverse plants like chicory to go to seed provides important feed for birds
More research is required on health impact and production in relation to dairy. Research by Reading University has demonstrated no significant different in growth rate for steers

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the land user’s view How can they be overcome?
Cost and challenge of establishment due to frequent dry springs Careful timing and flexibility
Maintaining species diversity and sward longevity Rotational grazing and long rotations, allowing plants to seed on a rotational basis
Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
Have realistic expectations of what plants will thrive on different soil types and select bespoke mixes accordingly Improved knowledge and support
In many cases having to establish a seed bed through ploughing – linked to longevity of sward, want to minimise cultivations and re seeding to reduce soil damage and cost Improved knowledge and support

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

  • field visits, field surveys


  • interviews with land users


When were the data compiled (in the field)?


Links and modules

Expand all Collapse all