By Debbie James

A Welsh hill farm is experimenting with incorporating timothy in grass seed mixes at inclusion rates of up to 40 per cent to try to improve the persistency and quality of grazing leys on marginal land for fattening lambs.

Timothy will grow at a lower temperature than ryegrass so can be useful in hill farming situations where it can generate good early and mid-season growth to fill gaps when perennial ryegrass growth falters.

John and Sarah Yeomans, who farm sheep and cattle at Llwyn Y Brain, near Newtown, with their sons, are growing 10 hectares (25 acres) on their highest land – wet, deep peat soil at 1400 feet.

It follows a Farming Connect management exchange visit by Mr Yeomans to Finland where timothy is widely used at high rates in grazing swards.

Since then he has been awarded European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) Wales funding to support a three-year trial to monitor the performance of timothy at inclusion rates of 10 per cent – 40 per cent.

With timothy best utilised in cooler, wetter areas, and performing on lower nitrogen inputs than ryegrass, Mr Yeomans says it could help to improve his farm’s future sustainability.

Independent grassland specialist Chris Duller is working alongside Dr Iwan Owen of Aberystwyth University in measuring and monitoring performance.

He says as timothy grows earlier in the season than ryegrass it can be good for early season grazing, especially in cold, late springs.

“Modern ryegrass varieties are first choice where soils conditions are good and nutrients are regularly applied, but in marginal situations with fairly low nitrogen inputs there is potential for grass species like timothy to boost yields and the persistency of swards,’’ Mr Duller told farmers attending a Farming Connect open day at Llwyn Y Brain.

Timothy is very palatable and suits sheep grazing on wetter land – but digestibility is lower than ryegrass, with grazing D value typically around 74 compared to ryegrass at 77.

In most off-the-shelf seed mixes in the UK, only 1kg of timothy is included in every 13-14kg mix because, with over 2.5 million seeds in each kilogramme of timothy, there is concern that any additional timothy could over-dominate the sward and reduce yield and quality.

“The trial at Llwyn Y Brain will allow us to see whether this concern is justified in marginal areas,’’ says Mr Duller.

Establishment of timothy at Llwyn Y Brain

• Soils were tested – the analysis showed most of the plots required liming to raise pH to above 5.5, the requirement for grass on peaty soils.

• At index 2 and 3, most of the Ps and Ks were at, or slightly above, target. Phosphate requirements for establishment were addressed with triple super phosphate (TSP)

• Existing vegetation was sprayed off with a dual salt glyphosate at a rate of 3.9litres/hectare in 200 litres of water

• Land was topped and lime applied as required.

• Seeds were sown in eight plots using two different establishment methods for each seed mix - scratching or sowing using an air seeder and spring tine harrow.

• The seed mixture was incorporated at different levels of Diandra Finnish Timothy - 10 per cent, 25 per cent and 40 per cent; ryegrass only was sown in two of the plots.

• Nitrogen plus sulphur was applied at establishment at a rate of 30kgN/ha.

• Plots were rolled.

• Two months after the seed was sown there was slightly better timothy establishment in plots where the seed was broadcast rather than drilled, although this was not a consistent trend across all plots.

• The plots where timothy establishment is the poorest are those that are wetter and have the highest levels of peat.

“We plan as each year goes by to act on the results using the best performing ley elsewhere on the farm and choose the most suitable establishment method for our requirements,’’ says Mr Yeomans, who grazes sheep and cattle on a rotational grazing system.

“The ongoing development of our farm is a long process and we are learning every day but the opportunity to travel thanks to the Farming Connect management exchange programme has been of great benefit both to me personally and hopefully to our farming business.’’