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Herbal Ley Hay Case Study

Forage – silage and hay, by Callum Weir

We had a buzzword for the 2019 forage season at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate – patchwork. Instead of cutting a whole field of silage, we cut half of two fields. Instead of one cut of hay, we did four. Instead of cutting every blade of grass, we left the awkward corners. The idea is that we don’t decimate the habitats of a whole area, even to a field scale. However, this is not easy. It is more risky, more difficult and more time consuming. Nevertheless, we have managed to cut and cart 600 bales of silage and 400 bales of hay between the end of May and the end of August.

Silage is a funny one. People think it is bad, but I am not so sure. I think an early cut of herbal ley silage, which is then left for the rest of the season, can provide good quality forage and leave plenty of time for birds like skylarks and corn buntings to raise a brood in the regrowth. On the other hand, a cut of hay in July may interrupt that brood and not leave time for another. Everything in moderation, and in patchwork!

One undeniably bad thing about silage is the plastic wrap. Each bale has 2kg of wrap, which means we produce 1.2mt of plastic waste from our feed alone. As a result, we have explored ways to reduce this. Firstly, this year we worked with our waste company and now recycle the wrap. Having introduced a recycling skip onto the farm we have halved our general waste. This amazing percentage will only increase as we head into the winter and use more silage when the livestock are housed.

In addition, this year, we also tried herbal ley hay. I was hoping this would create a happy medium between the feed quality of our herbal ley silage and the plastic-free nature of our parkland hay. However, there is a risk that hay-making process knocks all the dry, brittle leaves from the clovers, chicory and lucerne which would leave an unpalatable bale of stems. We managed to avoid this by cutting when we had a decent and hot forecast ahead of us, and tedding the ley out before the dew lifted within a few hours of cutting. The results show that this trial was a great success, with herbal ley hay having 20% more protein than parkland hay with no extra cost. This should help our pasture-fed, rare breed livestock finish to a high standard and confirmation. As a result of the trial, next year we will reduce our silage use by around 30% (or 400kg of plastic) and replace this with the herbal ley hay.

2019 Herbal Ley Hay Trial results

Forage Protein (g/kg) Energy (MJ/kg) Digestibility (%) Plastic wrap per bale (kg)
Herbal ley silage 145 10.5 66 2
Herbal ley hay 101 7.1 44 0
Parkland hay 80 7.4 46 0


For more information on herbal leys, as part of the FABulous Farmers project, the Soil Association are hosting a Herbal Ley Learning Network Event on the 13th of November in Somerset. To register, please visit;