The health and vitality of grazing/foraging animals has been failing. Several experts believe that’s due to a lack of naturally-sourced nutrients and therapeutic variety. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats and other grazers have been feeding on fast-growing grass planted in nutrient-deficient soils. Plants labeled as ‘weeds’ have been killed off to accommodate efficient grass growth.
The Benefits of Herbal Leys
There are a number of reasons that mixed grasses, wild vegetables and herb patches (or ‘leys’) are making a comeback in pastures:
- Overall health improvement
- Reduction of veterinarian expenses
- Organic farming
- Increase breeding
- Reduce miscarriage
- Produce healthier offspring
- Improve flavor
- Increase milk yield
- Replenish soil nutrients
- Fortify compost
Sometimes we know why this added diversity works, sometimes we don’t. In his article in Acres USA, Jerry Brunetti, managing director of Agri-Dynamics writes, “Perhaps the diversity of such a mixture in a paddock provides critical trace elements or various plant hormones, enzymes, aromatic oils, tannins, amino acids, fatty acids, alkaloids, pigments, vitamins and their co-factors, unidentified rumen flora stimulants, etc. The point is that there is no substitute for diversity; there is no way to quantify all the possible and synergistic interactions among both identifiable and unidentifiable components.”
What Should You Plant in Your Pasture?
You’ll have to do some experimenting to determine what holistic mix will work best for you. Aggressive grazing, climate, growing season, soil type and cohabiting plants can all impact how well individual species grow and establish in our fields.
Tip: Allow the plants to establish outside of the fenced area, thereby reseeding the pasture even when the animals have eaten the plants they can access. It will also provide a patch to harvest for storage or for seeds.
You can explore other options with combined functions, such as bordering the fence with raspberry bushes for berries, healing leaves, soil stability, wind protection, etc.
Avoid invasive species that may choke out your herbal ley variety and native plants.
Some of the most beneficial and easily grown holistic & herbal ley choices for pasture grazing include:
Clover (red & white)
Some research is required to determine what is best tolerated and utilized by your specific grazing animals. The growing season and drought tolerance of each species will also have to be determined so you can plan a mix that will produce some plants all the time.
In cold climates, herbs can be harvested, dried and stored for Winter mixes. Alternately, dried herbs may be purchased from a reputable herb supplier like Starwest Botanicals.
As is Nature’s way, the life cycle of the plants will also benefit the grazers by replenishing soil nutrients, which in turn grows more nutrient-rich plants. The plant roots and decomposing plants serve this purpose directly, while the higher quality of manure produced by the animal also contributes.
You can “wild forage” many of the above plants with a little research on identifying them, then transplant them. You’ll find bulk seeds at Stoke Seeds. Click on the herb name and then select ‘Grower Sizes’.
Have you tried seeding your pasture for health? We’d love to hear about your experience, including what plants were most successful for you in your particular part of the world. Do you use herbal leys with horses, cattle, sheep…?
Levy, Juliette de Bairacli. 1991. The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable.
Comparison of a herbal ley with a ryegrass-white clover pasture and pure ryegrass sward receiving fertiliser nitrogen – B.E. Ruz-Jerez, P. Roger Ball, R.E. White And P.E.H. Gregg
Foster, L. 1988. Herbs in Pastures. Development and Research in Britain, 1890-1984. Biological Agriculture & Horticulture.
Brunetti, Jerry. 2003. Benefits of Biodiverse Forage.
Naujoks, Claudia. Homeopathy for my Horse.
✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Natural Treatment of Hoof Ailments in Horses and Livestock
7 Stunning Super-Herbs to Grow for Pets (with Infographic)
Reader Tip: Seaweed is an Old Race Horse Trick
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