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Herbal Leys

Blog: Mixed Farming Systems for the Future

 A ZCCP Farm and Other Land Use Sector Group Blog

by Roe Baker

In early July I visited Newcastle University’s Nafferton Farm in Northumberland to look at the innovative trials and testing that the University is carrying out all of which are important in the mitigation of CO2e emissions, and the adaptation challenges agriculture faces now due to climate change.

The university trials are funded through a mix of corporate funding for their own product trials and University Research grants for PHD students and project funding and are run across two University farms in Northumberland, Nafferton and Cockle Park.

This blog is just to capture an interesting project around grass trials and demo plots and an innovative approach to methane sensing.

ZCCP have also recently partnered on an application to Defra and UKRI with Newcastle University for funding to support a national partnership Land Use Net Zero (LUNZ) Research Programme, so watch this space!



Grazing Trials

Image: Mob grazing research platform

Grazing platforms have been set up with numerous partners to explore the production, welfare and environmental benefits achievable through mob grazing, diverse pasture and overwintered forage crops. Mob grazing work with ADAS is Defra funded and in being used to inform future policy.

Mob Grazing: differs from rotational grazing systems because paddocks are given longer rest period, which means livestock graze taller covers. Compared with set-stocking it boosts pasture resilience by developing deeper rooting systems and, therefore, improving the soil structure. In selective mob grazing, the aim is to graze one-third, trample one-third and leave one-third of the pasture. In non-selective mob grazing, the animals eat all the biomass available in the area – leaving a lower residual. Pastures can be made up of herbal leys or permanent pastures. Herbal leys are preferable because they aim to replicate traditional pastures with a diversity of clovers, grasses and herbs, and with deep roots they are more resilient to weather extremes. (Liz Genever – Carbon Calling)

Image: Oliver Seeds grass seed mixtures and root growth and depth demo

Rotational Grazing: Rotational grazing is the practice of containing and moving animals through pasture to improve soil, plant, and animal health.

Only one portion of pasture is grazed at a time while the remainder of the pasture “rests.” To accomplish this, pastures are subdivided into smaller areas, referred to as paddocks, and livestock are moved from one paddock to another.

Resting grazed paddocks allows forage plants to recover and deepen their root systems.

Clover paddock

Image: A trial paddock of clover rich diverse sward, herbal ley


Methane Sensing

The milking parlour at Nafferton Farm has recently been adapted to enable sampling of methane emissions with no disruption to the farm operations and no alteration to cow behaviour. Set-up as part of one of seven projects commissioned by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE), this data is being fed into the “Carbon Accounting for the Dairy Industry” research project working with the UK dairy industry to demonstrate the feasibility of low-cost, non-invasive measurements of greenhouse gas emissions.

Thanks to the grazing trial platforms as detailed above the University will be able to start researching the methane emissions from traditional permanent pasture managed paddocks against mob and rotational grazing systems, and diverse grasses and herbal leys.

Image: On the other side of the wall are the cow’s feeding troughs. The blue pipes you can see connected to the methane monitoring devices are resting in their feed troughs on the other side of the wall. As the cows eat their breath is measured. The cows are unaware that this is happening and can continue to eat, rest and converse with their neighbours in a natural setting.


 Non – invasive methane testing at Nafferton farm dairy parlour July 23



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