Anyone driving between Westhorpe and Walsham Le Willows in the last week will have noticed that we have a flock of 310 ewes and 6 tups on the farm grazing our grassland. This is an important part of the crop management for the herbage grass crops which are all rye grass and grown for seed. The two varieties of grass being grown are both different with one producing a fine, rich grass which will go for lawns and sports pitches and the second, a rougher, hard wearing grass for paddocks and verges. We are able to establish the grass early by sowing it under the spring oats so that by the time the oats are combined there is a layer of grass already growing. The grass crop is down for 2 years, taking off one seed and one hay crop per year and is grazed twice, once in the first winter and once in the second. The grass plays a crucial part of the rotation with crop adding valuable Nitrogen to the soil giving the land the ability to grow wheat for the following 3 years. The yield and quality of the grass crops has significantly increased since the re-introduction of grazing into the rotation and has reduced some of our management as well. Sheep are the ideal animals for this type of grassland management as they nibble grass down to a 2cm sward rather than the ripping that cows do. Grazing removes the need to mow the field at any point during the autumn or winter and increases tillering of existing plants, gives the field an additional covering of organic matter in the form of manure and the constant hooves in the soil increases germination of new grass and weeds such as blackgrass giving us the opportunity to spray out the germinated competitive weeds once the sheep have departed. As with any livestock their are benefits to the farm’s biodiversity with a range of species present as a result of the presence of the sheep, many insects and beetles can be found in the fields in the manure and bird species such as meadow pipit and skylark are found in greater numbers in the fields with sheep.
It goes without saying that if you see the sheep whilst out please keep dogs on leads, especially as the electric fence is on and if you see any sheep in distress (not limping) or anything untoward going on ring any of the numbers on the boards around the edge of the field.