Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pasture is good for livestock – and arable rotations too

March 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Livestock


Including a grass ley in the arable rotation can deliver benefits on a far wider scale than the standard break crop, says Mike Warner.

Viable options that mitigate the impact of resistant blackgrass, poor soil structure and depleted nutrition are often elusive – even to the most progressive arable farmer looking for alternative break crop solutions to cope with issues generated by long term cereal production.

Pulses, spring cereals, sugar beet and niche crops, designed to extract worth from, at times, the seemingly irreversible effects of the constant close-cropping of winter wheat, all have their place, but their true value is often only transient.

But a return to a more traditional and sustainable system of including of a grass ley in the arable rotation can actually deliver benefits on a far wider scale than the standard break – as one group of livestock farmers has discovered.


Members of the Pasture for Life group have long been advocates of such a system – conceived back in 2009 by a handful of livestock producers who wanted to extol the virtues of grainless meat production using grass as the sole feed source.

What started out as a small association of like minded individuals has now grown to a countrywide UK membership of sheep and beef producers, butchers and retailers who all benefit from the provenance and accreditation that is associated with animals reared exclusively on pasture.

Not simply a flash-in-the-pan solution to an ongoing weed stranglehold that depletes both yield and resources, structuring a cropping system to include at least three or even four years of a grass crop can deliver tangible and measurable benefits for the soil.

It can also help issues relating to weed population, nutrient balance, environment and provide other potential income streams – both in terms of contract grazing and forage production.

Although perhaps pigeonholed as a West Country phenomenon, rearing livestock on pasture that incorporates a specific blend of grasses, legumes and often herbs, the value of this system in a more traditional East Anglian cereal-based rotation is gaining popular and widening appeal.

Sara Gregson, Pasture for Life’s communications director, is keen to stress that the system is both tried and tested and has proved capable of enhanced delivery of both agronomic and economic benefits when dovetailed into an arable rotation.

“A typical three or four year rotational ley wins on so many levels”, explains Ms Gregson. First and foremost, at the apex of the system is the production of quality pasture-fed beef, lamb and mutton, she adds.

“For the arable farmer, this might translate into a grazing rental in excess of the norm, as the robust mix of grasses in the ley are a bespoke blend to suit both soil type and system, instantly adding value.”

Additional income

Contract forage production is another option too with sales of premium hay, silage or haylage generating valuable additional income. It all adds up to make the inclusion of grass in the rotation an attractive proposition.

Maximising forage production can be compatible with both conventional or organic farming systems. Although 60% of members do indeed operate wholly organic systems, the addition of artificial N is allowable and obviously more important as part of conventional cropping.