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Grazing livestock on winter cereals could help aid soil biology, allow for earlier drilling dates, control pests and diseases and influence yield potential, suggests... How grazing winter cereals can aid soil biology

Grazing livestock on winter cereals could help aid soil biology, allow for earlier drilling dates, control pests and diseases and influence yield potential, suggests a study.

The project, which looked at grazing winter cereals with sheep, started as a Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group, facilitated by Peter Lindsay and Zach Riley of SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

“The project was developed to gain a better understanding on whether grazing livestock on winter cereals could have a detrimental effect on, for example, disease control and yield potential,” said Mr Lindsay.

Trials were carried out by Balgay Farming Partnership, a partnership between Iain Graham and Iain Wilkinson. The experiment follows an agricultural drought during the summer of 2018 which severely reduced grass growth.

Balgay Farm is run as a mixed farming business with combinable cropping, beef and sheep. “The impact of drought on grass growth during 2018 prompted us to look at ways to utilise arable land to aid livestock performance,
but also help soil biology,” said Mr Lindsay.

The trial consisted of two-hectare blocks drilled with winter wheat, winter barley and winter oats. Each crop block was split down the middle with an electric fence and sheep were allowed to graze one half, but not the other.

Mr Wilkinson said that the results from the trials were very promising and demonstrated that the grazing of winter cereals can provide valuable winter forage for sheep and also have a beneficial impact on crop yield.

“We introduced sheep to the crops at the end of October 2018 and they ate the winter barley right down to the bone before moving onto the winter wheat and winter oats. We were concerned we had been too hard on the winter barley and it would have a detrimental impact on the crop.”