Farmers Weekly Award success for multi-species early adopter

Tuesday 25.10.2022 , News

Ian Boyd from Whittington Lodge Farm in Gloucestershire planted his first multi-species herbal leys back in 2014 when he transitioned his farm to an organic system (photo credit: Richard Stanton).

Eight years later, his 45-head pedigree Hereford herd now supplies over 2,000 consumers as part of his profitable, direct-to-consumer enterprise.

Farm facts: Whittington Lodge

  • 280 ha owned and farmed in partnership with his daughter
  • 70 ha herbal leys, 65 ha wildflower meadows, 50 ha spring barley, 35 ha permanent pasture and 30 ha woodland, plus floristically enhanced grass margins and wild bird seed areas
  • Cows and calves are outwintered, and 50% of the herbal leys are cut for haylage to feed housed youngstock during winter
  •  45-head Hereford herd supplying directly to consumers

Multi-species swards aiding net zero efforts

Crowned the Farmers Weekly Grassland Farmer of the Year 2022, Ian shares his experiences of using multi-species swards.

“I’ve taken our soil health very seriously and multi-species played a big part in this. Well-managed soils will sequester carbon rather than release it and our low input system means our carbon emissions are minimal.

“Using a carbon footprint tool, we can now confidently say the farm is around net zero.

“We use two multi-species seed mixtures, both including at least 15 species. One includes chicory for grazing and one without for baling as the chicory stalks cause a problem when wrapping.

“We must work with our alkaline soil and have found sainfoin thrives on it. We’ve increased the amount of it in our mixes as besides its nutritional advantages and drought tolerance, the cattle and pollinating insects love it. It also has anthelmintic and anti-bloat properties.”

Establishing multi-species in spring malting barley

“We’ve found undersowing multi-species in spring barley a reliable method for establishment and this fits with the research showing spring-sown multi-species leys yield better results.

“We wait for the spring barley to reach the three-leaf stage, so it is well anchored, then go through with a harrow and scatter the multi-species seeds.

“You think you’ll damage the barley especially with the multiple rolling, but it’s resilient and we haven’t found any reduction in grain yield. The multi-species germinate well under the crop and is ready to grow rapidly after the barley is harvested.”

Ian Boyd’s advice for growing multi-species swards

1. Think about the whole system

“Don’t look at a sward in isolation, think – how does it fit into my farming system and what am I trying to achieve? One benefit for us has been the total removal of a blackgrass infestation after four years of mob grazing.

“We were amazed to find no trace of the blackgrass in following barley crops and the soil structure was dramatically improved. The multi-species ley resets the land.”

2. Let it grow

“Don’t graze your multi-species too tightly – the leaf area is needed even after grazing to capture the sunlight to encourage more growth. We have success with mob grazing as we strive to ‘graze one-third, trample one-third and leave one-third’.

“The animals move across our variety of grasslands, and we rest the pasture for long periods (two to three months) to allow for growth and large root structures to develop and to encourage flowering. Despite the dry weather this year, we never ran out of grass.”

3. Know your goals and stick to them

“I think one reason we are doing well is that we are clear on our goals. We want seven things for our farm: financial viability, biodiversity, purity of water leaving the farm, net zero or better, high animal health and welfare, sale of nutritious food and to engage with the public.

“We use these to measure all decisions against, and to spur us on to more improvements in the future.”

Germinal supporting grassland excellence

Germinal sponsors the Farmers Weekly Grassland Manager of the Year award as part of its commitment to supporting excellence in grassland management. This year’s award continues to celebrate farmers pushing the boundaries to fulfil financial and environmental sustainability goals. Congratulations to this year’s winner Ian Boyd.

Ask a Germinal expert about multi-species