Introducing sheep into arable rotations not only boosts soil organic matter and soil fertility but they can also help to improve net margins.

However, instead of buying in a flock of breeding sheep, and the added complications of having to lamb them, a number of arable farmers in the east of the country have introduced 'flying flocks' – lean ewes and store lambs to finish on arable land and crops, says Martin Titley, director of marketing for forage crops with breeders Limagrain UK.

“Soil always benefits from increased organic matter. Manure from grazing animals is slowly released and can be utilised by the arable crops following in the rotation. Sheep generally defecate more evenly and are less damaging to the soil than cattle and should therefore be the animal of choice,” said Mr Titley.

He added that sowing grass leys or fast-growing brassica crops can also help combat black grass. The crops can be grazed off which can help with the switch to a spring sown arable crop.

“Grass leys can be sown in spring or autumn and can be grazed for a period of 1-3 years and are great for black grass infested fields. Mixtures such as Sinclair McGill Lambtastic includes beneficial herbs such as chicory and plantains as well as white clovers, which will finish lambs and help with the soil structure.

“Mixed species on the farm helps crop diversity and for many, may help unlock environmental scheme payments for grazed crops and fencing. There’s also the option of developing a partnership with other farmers, and also encouraging young farmers to have a stake in a new enterprise, can be rewarding to both parties,” said Mr Titley.

To consider such an option, he added that farmers first have to think about cropping and consider what they want to use the crop for and when it needs to be ready for feeding sheep. After which there are several options:

Stubble turnip Samson – easy to grow; crops are usually sown after barley in July and early August. They are fast growing, with some crops being ready to feed in 12-14 weeks.

Tonnes fresh yield/ha 38-45

Growing costs/ha £305

Forage rape Rampart – another fast-growing brassica crop that can be sown in June to August. It is more winter hardy than stubble turnip, so crops can be left for later use.

Tonnes fresh yield/ha 24-35

Growing costs/ha £408

Kale Pinfold – great for providing huge feed yields that can be grazed into February, but crops need to be sown earlier, in May to June.

Tonnes fresh yield/ha 60-65

Growing costs/ha £496