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French farmer fieldtrip to Scotland: Getting inspiration on winter grazing!

Six farmers from the French network travelled to Scotland to be inspirated by inter-farm crop-livestock collaborations. The group visited farms and experiments on cover crop grazing andearly stage winter cereal grazing.

The group of French farmers, advisors and researchers with hosting colleagues from SRUC, visiting experiments in Aberdeen (Photo by: Robin Walker)
Experimental trial on cover crop grazing at SRUC Aberdeen : early stage winter wheat grazed vs control (Photo by: Txomin Elosegi)
Fodder turnip and grass silage for sheep winter grazing at Fergus and Alison Younger farm (Photo by: Julie Ryschawy)
Shared lunch between Scottish and French farmers before visiting a crop farm hosting sheep (Photo by: Robin Walker)

The French network travelled to Scotland to get inspiration on crop-livestock collaborations between farms. Six crop and livestock farmers, two advisors and three researchers visited farms and research experiments on cover crop grazing and early stage winter cereal grazing, both designed to  reduce winter feeding costs. The trip was jointly organized by INRAE, SRUC and SAOS to allow MIXED network farmers to share experiences.

Winter grazing to cut feeding costs while keeping high performance

The fieldtrip began south of Edinburgh, where we visited Preston Hall farm which grazed stock from neighbouring farms on cover crops. Sheep and cattle from nearby Saughland farm, grazed a mix of phacelia (6%), mustard (20%), oilseed radish (30%), vetch (30%) and fenugreek (14e. Preston Farm also hosts cows from another livestock farm in their barns over winter, providing straw and making use of the manure.  .

The group then met sheep farmer Graham Loftouse at Bankhouse farm. Graham aims for 700kg/ha of lambs sold (liveweight) which was a revoluationaryway of thinking for our French farmers! This enables him to maintain high performance without high inputs. The group were inspired by intensive grazing of stubble turnips, supplemented with grass silage, to keep sheep outside during winter.

Diversifying as a smart way of maintaining a living on crop-livestock farm

On the second day, we discovered Old Leckie farm with Fergus and Alison Younger. They introduced their diversified activities including mixed livestock (sheep, cattle, pigs and hens) and direct selling to the local community.  Their approach of combining direct selling with low-cost winter feeding for sheep and cattle worked well but was challenging in terms of labour management!

Fergus also winter contract grazed livestock from eastern Scotland. The contract clarifies responsibilities and weight gain objectives of livestock - if growth objectives are surpassed, financial benefits are shared between the farmers in the agreement.

Visiting SRUC experiment and farm on sheep grazing winter cereals

On the third day, we visited the experimental trial on winter cereal grazing at SRUC Aberdeen with Robin Walker. We compared fields with no grazing (control), 1 days, 2 days or 3 days, with 2 sheep on 150 m² grazing and observed soil quality. After three years measurements, the practice allows crop sowing earlier in the season protecting soil structure. Positive disease management and even the signs of yields uplift have been observed. These replicated trials will provide scientific evidence for a promising way to integrate livestock on to arable farms.

In the afternoon, we visited the crop farm managed by Iain Wilson where sheep graze winter cereals intensively. Iain advocated engcouraging neighbours to engage in the practice as well as investing in infrastructure (fencing/water) to build grazing capacity – which currently stands at around 14 000 sheep grazing crop farms in the area. Crop farmers were paid 0.10 to 0.15 euros per day per sheep regardless of whether they were taking care of them or not. French farmers were impressed by the ability of wheat to regrow and the density of wheat after being grazed.

Getting back home inspired and already implementing

The farmers were impressed by the practices they saw and the warm welcome they received.  As soon as thegroup got back home, they tried putting some sheep on winter cereals and are already planning a reciprocal visit for the summer.

Relevant links


Julie Ryschawy, INRAE UMR 1248 AGIR