Grasses, which include westerworlds ryegrass, timothy, cocksfoot, meadow fescue, creeping red fescue, foxtail take on many applications in the overall picture. First, our climate here in the British Isles is ideal for grass growth, making it a cheap and abundant source of forage for livestock.
Westerworlds in particular is an extremely fast growing variety and along with its high sugar content is ideal for producing silage which will feed the animals throughout winter.
Cocksfoot has the deepest roots of the varieties which makes it ideal to facilitate drainage and offer lots of organic matter to thin soils. It is the earliest of the grasses to spring and grows back after grazing with vigour.
Red fescue tolerates drought as it forms dense turf making a good choice for surplus forage.
Legumes play an accompanying role, collecting nitrogen from the air and fixing it into the soil to aid the growth of plants and eliminating the need for artificial nitrogen fertilisers. Legumes are also high in protein and medicinal properties boosting animal welfare and performance. Included in Alan’s mix are white clover, red clover, crimson clover, sainfoin, sweet clover and vetches.
White clover is probably one the most valuable plants in any organic farmers arsenal. The stem that runs along the ground producing leaves and flowers at low levels make it perfect for grazing. It grows well in nitrogen deficient soil and adds carbon trapped from the sunlight back into the soil. As an integral part of the diet for the sheep it helps to cleanse the blood, aids digestion and balances cholesterol.
Sainfoin adds copious amounts of nitrogen to the soil eradicating the need for chemical fertilisers. It is also high in tannins which provide a high protein count to the feed. The tannins present also prevent bloat in the sheep. Its medicinal properties extend as a natural worming antidote for lambs as it has natural anthelmintic properties. It also helps to reduce the amount of methane produced by ruminants, invaluable from an environmental perspective. Just In this one plant we find various ailment preventatives eliminating the need for antibiotics whilst also helping to enrich the soil and keep the atmosphere clean.
Sweet clover Is a huge nitrogen fixer and produces huge quantities of green material for forage whilst vetches out compete weeds and improve soil structure.
Herbs have deep rooting systems which aerate the soil - tractors and their high diesel consumption are left at the wayside. The herbs are abundant with micro nutrients and minerals, adding a high nutrient content to the diet and remarkably, or maybe not so remarkably, these nutrients end up in our milk adding nutrient to our bodies.
Herbs in the mix include chicory, rib grass, yarrow and burnet. Alan loves chicory. We set about on his springy pastures, heads bent to the ground as he points out each grass, legume and herb and tell us each benefit. The chicory was yet to burst into season but he was determined to find a sample that he could show off.
It is deep rooted and will grow in heavy drought periods. It is high yielding, rich in mineral and also has anthelmintic properties which prevent intestinal parasites in the animals. Ribgrass is another nutritous plant, specifically containing large amounts of copper, calcium and selenium.
Yarrow is rich in vitamin A. This is interesting in sheep as unlike cows they do not transform vitamin A into carotene which is what turns cows milk butter yellow and why Sheeps milk butter (rare as it is) stays white.