Grazing herbs for livestock

Grazing herbs are plant species that are often mistaken by many farmers as weeds in their pasture. An ideal pasture contains a large proportion of vigorous  grasses and to a lesser extent companion species such as clover and herbs.

 Grazing herbs include both Chicory (Cichorium intybus) and Plantain (Plantago lanceolata). These are perennial plants that in some harsh environments  behave as free seeding annuals, that is, they grow for one year or less, set seed and die.

Chicory

Chicory is a native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, actively growing in spring, summer and autumn with winter dormancy. It has a taproot with an exposed crown and rosette of large upright leaves. Chicory prefers deep, fertile, and free draining soils (similar to lucerne), however, it does have tolerance to soil acidity. Minimum average annual rainfall for optimum growth and survival is 650-750mm. Sowing can occur in either autumn or spring with sowing rates varying in pastures mixes from 0.5-2.0kg/ha.

Chicory is known to contain both minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulphur) and trace elements (copper, zinc) that are beneficial to livestock health. It is also reported to have an anthelmintic effect (expels parasitic worms from the body) on sheep and deer, although this is untested in other livestock.  

Chicory - grazing herb for livestock farmers.

 Plantain

 Plantain is a deep rooted perennial herb, native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. Similar to chicory it grows from a rosette, however, its leaves are ribbed,  with fine hairs and a sharp point. Developed from the well known flat weed, plantain grows all year round and in contrast to chicory has strong winter  growth. 

It is suited to a wide range of soil types, including low fertility and has good tolerance to soil acidity. Minimum average rainfall for optimum growth and survival is 600-700mm. Sowing can occur in autumn or spring where high rainfall or irrigation is available. Sowing rates vary in pasture mixes from 1-3kg/ha.

Plantain also contains high levels of minerals (calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, cobalt) and trace elements (zinc, copper, selenium). Sheep grazing trials have shown significant increases in both copper and selenium uptake. Again, this is untested in other livestock. Plantain has also shown some evidence of containing desirable levels of condensed tannins (plant protein protected from microbe breakdown), along with anti-microbial (substances that inhibit growth of microorganisms) and anthelmintic properties.

Tonic plantain - grazing herb for livestock farmers

 Management 

 Both chicory and plantain can be difficult to manage and are best controlled by rotational grazing. Under close, hard grazing by sheep and horses they can  be preferentially grazed and therefore grazed out. Under lax grazing chicory bolts quickly during the spring sending up tall stems which can become woody  and unpalatable. Stem elongation can be controlled during the warm months of the year, by short and sharp grazing events when stems have ten percent or  fewer flowers. If few livestock are available, paddocks containing herbs should be grazed, topped with a slasher and then rested. 

Grazing herbs are not legumes; therefore they do not fix their own nitrogen. Pastures with these species require clovers (subterranean, white clover) for their nitrogen fixing capabilities or alternatively require applications of nitrogen fertiliser to maximise growth."Grazing herbs can be added to the pasture at a later point, broadcast with fertiliser and trampled in."

 Chicory and plantain are suitable for hay, however the leaves of these species are slow to dry which can delay the haymaking process. Be aware that  grazing herbs are particularly susceptible to phenoxy-based herbicides (e.g. MCPA and 2,4-D). Therefore, paddocks where herbs are to be  sown should be  free of broadleaf weeds. If broadleaf weeds are anticipated to be a problem, herbs can be added to the pasture at a later point, broadcast  with fertiliser and  trampled in.

 In summary, grazing herbs are fascinating plants and although often only used as companion species in pasture mixes, their growth habit, benefits, pitfalls  and management are still worthwhile understanding. Farmers who can recognise grazing herbs in their pastures will quickly realise that these plants are in-  fact not weeds but useful pasture species.

 Where to from here?

 For further information on pastures we recommend you purchase a copy of A guide to pasture species in NSW. This book includes descriptions and colour  photos of useful temperate and tropical legume and grass species.

Charlie Roberts - Farmstyle small farm consultant.

The author Charlie Roberts is one of the FarmStyle Australia experts, he runs this website along with a successful farm near Dubbo in Central New South Wales, so he walks the talk.

Charlie has a Bachelor of Farm Management and a Masters of Business Administration. He has worked for a number of agricultural companies in both New Zealand and Australia. He has a wealth of experience working with farmers in a range of environments.

News Category

New Forum Topics

Topic Replies Last post Forum
3034 Partnership Farming/land ownership - some questions before entering in
by Sheffo on Sun, 08/14/2016 - 18:17
5
by barra
Tue, 08/15/2017 - 14:54
General Forum
736 $20,000 turnover off of 44 acres.
by Alex Hughes on Fri, 03/16/2012 - 10:10
1
by charlie
Mon, 03/19/2012 - 13:04
Farming Help
2465 12 acres and contracted water lisence. What to do?
by JT on Sun, 07/19/2015 - 11:59
4
by JT
Wed, 07/22/2015 - 19:53
General Forum
5451 17 year old with a strong passion for agriculture
by James F on Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:21
0
by James F
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:21
New Members
2208 2 yr old Dorper as a pet?
by molly_chick on Sun, 12/07/2014 - 17:33
3
by barb
Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:11
General Forum
3282 2009/2010 Hay net issues
by kneebiesfam on Fri, 11/17/2017 - 14:05
1
by admin
Fri, 11/17/2017 - 16:01
General Forum
2403 3rd time lucky!
by Kaz on Fri, 05/22/2015 - 18:26
1
by barb
Fri, 05/22/2015 - 20:49
New Members
2461 5 Acres is the place to Be
by Cap on Sat, 07/18/2015 - 08:44
3
by barb
Sun, 07/19/2015 - 08:08
New Members
2618 7 acres of red volcanic soil - what to do with it?
by Susannamc on Sun, 10/11/2015 - 14:18
1
by barb
Sun, 10/11/2015 - 16:40
General Forum
1843 A one-off Income over $20000 - Do I need an ABN?
by [email protected] on Sun, 03/09/2014 - 10:16
1
by charlie
Sun, 03/09/2014 - 22:51
Farming Help
2544 Abattoir experiences and costings
by Black Locust on Sun, 08/23/2015 - 20:13
2
by barb
Mon, 09/07/2015 - 11:20
General Forum
5484 Abattoir options
by summit1966 on Sun, 03/17/2019 - 22:43
0
by summit1966
Mon, 04/01/2019 - 14:33
Butcher meat
1426 ABN number for small farm
by ivan4ilse on Thu, 11/01/2012 - 18:52
3
by ivan4ilse
Tue, 11/20/2012 - 18:52
Farming Help
3812 About to be HobbyFarmers
by HumbugFarmer on Fri, 07/20/2018 - 09:30
1
by admin
Wed, 07/25/2018 - 19:27
New Members
5473 Acreage with a tree plantation
by Dan13L on Mon, 02/18/2019 - 01:43
1
by admin
Tue, 02/26/2019 - 16:30
General Forum
2733 Acres for rent??
by leckie on Wed, 01/27/2016 - 14:18
0
by leckie
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 14:18
Farming Help
2692 Advice on buying a new box trailer - can it transport livestock?
by Black Locust on Wed, 12/30/2015 - 23:01
3
by barb
Thu, 12/31/2015 - 16:39
Farming Help
2375 Advice on paddock agreement
by Kaz on Tue, 04/28/2015 - 07:55
6
by barb
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 12:40
General Forum
3188 Advice on setting up a new commerial aquaponics farm
by Ahsha.k on Sat, 04/01/2017 - 09:16
1
by admin
Tue, 04/04/2017 - 14:28
New Members
2234 Advice on tick control
by maggi on Sun, 01/04/2015 - 08:07
1
by barb
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 00:44
Farming Help

Our Sponsors

Our Partners