12th September 2022

Forage herbs are ‘hidden gems’ in boosting grazing and sheep performance

And Sinclair Mcgill’s grass seed manager Ian Misselbrook says that more UK sheep producers could take advantage of these ‘hidden gems’, which can not only extend the grazing season and improve the supply of minerals and trace elements but also boost live weight gains.

“Both forage herbs are highly palatable and trials have shown that ewes and finishing lambs will selectively graze both plantain and chicory in a mixed pasture – but they’re also rich sources of minerals, such as calcium, sodium, copper and selenium, and they can also extend the grazing season,” he says.

Lamb weight

A recent trial, where ewes with triplet lambs aged between nine and 10 weeks old were grazed on Sinclair McGill’s plantain variety Tonic, compared twin and single lambs on grass and lucerne leys and saw an average lamb weight of 37.5kg, compared with31kg for twins on lucerne and 32kg for twin lambs on grass.

Mr Misselbrook stresses that rearing lambs on home-produced forage does not mean that it has to be low-output, extensive production. “Quite the opposite, in fact,” he says, adding that some of the products outlined in the company’s latest booklet, called ‘Crop solutions for cost efficient lamb production’, have the potential to dramatically reduce the time it takes to finish lambs and increase output, when compared to high supplementary diets.

Variety is the spice of life – even for ewes and lambs. And adding plantain and/or chicory to swards will increase grazing intakes. Sinclair Mcgill’s forage plantain – Tonic – has the potential to support weight gains for between 250g and 350g per day in weaned lambs at high stocking rates. The company also markets in the UK a chicory variety – Grasslands Choice – which it says will also increase ewe-milk production and increase the rate of live-weight gain in finishing lambs.

Easy growing

The forage herbs are also relatively easy to grow. Plantain, which is a ribbed leafy perennial herb, does better when sown in a reseed mixture.

Plantain can be established on a range of soil types, but it will persist for longer if grown on free draining soil. “So avoid fields that are prone to waterlogging,” says Mr Misselbrook, adding that a firm and fine seed bed is required. This must also be as weed free as possible. “Weed control is best carried out before sowing because post-emergence control is limited.”

Plantain is best sown into warm soils, between 10OC and 12 OC where possible, and the seed is small so sowing depth should be no greater than 10mm.

“If you are sowing plantain as a straight stand, a sowing rate of between 8kg and 10kg per hectare is recommended and drilling the seed is best, but broadcasting the seed and then rolling can also be successful.”

Mr Misselbrook adds that plantain can also be incorporated into grass and clover ley mixtures, at a rate of between 2kg and 4kg per hectare depending on the percentage of cover required. Spring sowing is preferred, but the crop can be sown as late as July.

“And fertiliser applications should be similar to those for grass and clover leys, with 70kg of nitrogen per hectare helping to improve establishment.”

As for grazing management, Mr Misselbrook stresses that plantain should not be grazed until the plant has six fully grown leaves and the root system is fully developed. “Once the plant is at this stage it can be rotationally grazed and it has a faster regrowth potential.”

Reliable forages

“Sheep producers who are growing plantain and chicory in the UK say that these species are just as reliable as grass and brassicas,” says Mr Misselbrook. “Indeed producers based in drier regions with light soils – such as East Anglia and the South East – say that adding these forage herbs to their grass mixtures allows them to continue grazing during June, July and August when grass growth has slowed due to lack of rainfall.”

Chicory and plantain have deep, fibrous roots that provide a degree of drought tolerance. This makes them ideal for use on units that sometimes struggle to provide enough grazing for stock come mid-summer.

Grazing is not only about lamb production, but also the healthy maintenance of ewes on productive grass and clover based systems, to ensure that unnecessary additional feeding costs are avoided.

“With the additional health benefits of high mineral intakes, producers could even see a potential reduction in their veterinary expenses if they add these forage herbs to their grazing rotation or sward mixtures,” adds Mr Misselbrook.


 Sinclair McGill will be demonstrating the plantain seed variety Tonic at this year’s Sheep Event along with Grasslands Choice chicory and – importantly – its new seed mixture in the Sinclair McGill range named Lambtastic. This mixture carefully combines forage chicory and plantain with white clover, Matrix Enhanced Ryegrass, Timothy and early perennial ryegrass to give the sward a sprint-start in the spring.

It is an ideal mixture for early lambing flocks, providing an early bite for grazing ewes and lambs and a late bite for finishing lambs.

Pick up a free copy of ‘Crop solutions for cost efficient lamb production’ at the Sinclair Mcgill stand at the Sheep Event, or call 01472 370173.

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