Sheep grazing and defoliation of contrasting varieties of organically grown winter wheat with and without undersowing

Michael Gooding, Nicola Cosser, Andrew Thompson, Paul Davies

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Abstract

Field experiments in Gloucestershire, UK, in the 1990–91, 1991–92, 1993–94 and 1994–95 growing seasons explored the merits of grazing in spring a traditional tall wheat (Triticum aestivum) variety, Maris Widgeon, with more modern shorter varieties. In the first 2 years, defoliation was achieved by mowing at 7 cm in March and/or April. In the second 2 years, varieties sown at two sowing dates were grazed by sheep at a stocking rate of 42 × 50 kg sheep ha−1 for 3 or 4 days in March. Defoliation reduced crop height and interception of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). In 1991–92, mowing significantly reduced grain yield of some of the shorter varieties but not of Maris Widgeon. This interaction was related to the amount of PAR intercepted. In this year, mowing improved the establishment of undersown white clover (Trifolium repens) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), but in subsequent years the conditions were much drier and undersowing failed. In the last two experiments, grazing in March did not significantly reduce grain yield of any variety. The quality of the forage eaten by the sheep had a modified acid-detergent fibre (MADF) content of less than 300 g kg−1 dry matter (DM) and a crude protein (CP) content of more than 200 g kg−1 DM in both seasons. Yield of DM and calculated metabolizable energy (ME) of different varieties removed by the sheep interacted strongly with sowing date. September-sown Maris Widgeon provided ≈ 0·7 and 0·3 t DM ha−1 (or 7·8 and 3·4 GJ ME ha−1) in March 1994 and March 1995 respectively. However, the shorter wheat varieties, Hereward and Genesis, only provided 0·3 and 0·1 t DM ha−1 when sown at the same time in the 2 years. At later sowing dates all of the varieties only provided about 0·1 t DM ha−1 when sown in October 1993, or 0·01 t DM ha−1 when sown in November 1994. Sheep grazing reduced total weed biomass in June, and reduced the emergence of weed seedlings from soil samples collected after the wheat harvest. Effects of defoliation on foliar infection by Septoria tritici were inconsistent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76–87
JournalGrass and Forage Science
Volume53
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1998

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