Alternative grassland reseeding species

Chicory, plantain and lucerne are some examples of alternative grassland reseeding species. See our information around the benefits of diverse pastures.

Back to: Choosing the correct grass species for a grassland reseed

What are the benefits of diverse pastures?

Diverse pastures provide greater resilience to extreme weather, deliver ecosystem services, such as improved soil structure, local biodiversity, and do not require N fertilisation to grow, making them an extremely sustainable feed source for grazing ruminants. Interest is growing, among both conventional and organic farmers, in alternative species to boost yields and animal performance.

Research projects

Research on the benefits from diverse pastures or herbal leys on animal performance and yields is being conducted at University College Dublin and the University of Reading.

This project will add to existing knowledge on herbal leys by investigating best-practice agronomy and feeding strategies for three mixtures with increasing species complexity.


Used in many parts of the world as a source of forage, chicory helps to draw essential minerals from the soil for grazing livestock. Improved chicory varieties, including perennial varieties lasting over two years, are now available.

Chicory is a herb as opposed to a legume so requires additional nitrogen for growth. Clover is a good companion crop.

Growth rates

Growth rates of lambs grazing chicory are generally between 178–300 g per day but vary depending on management. With good management, growth rates of 300–400 g per day have been achieved. Growth rates of lambs on chicory are better than those on grass-based pastures and similar to those grazing forage legumes. There have been limited trials on the benefits of grazing cattle on chicory.

Tips for the management of chicory:

  • Very productive, reaching 2 m in height if not grazed
  • High artificial nutrient input required to sustain growth
  • Deep taproot means it grows well in dry conditions so is suited to well-drained soils with medium-to-high fertility
  • Must practise rotational or strip grazing when grazing swards with high proportions of chicory


Narrow-leaf plantain, or ribgrass, is a perennial herb. It is used as a stand-alone crop and as part of sward mixtures in the native grasslands of the temperate world.

Growth rates of lambs grazing plantain vary widely, depending on management, but generally reach 250–300 g per day when rotational grazing is in place. Growth rates are generally better than those from grass-based pastures and similar to those grazing forage legumes.

Tips for the management of plantain:

  • Adapted to a wide range of soils but does not thrive in deep sands or waterlogged soils
  • Requires annual rainfall above 500 mm
  • Active in winter, although growth rates lower than perennial ryegrass
  • Moderately tolerant to drought and frost
  • Accesses minerals that grasses and clovers can’t due to deep taproot


Sainfoin is a silage or hay crop that can also be grazed.

Tips for the management of sainfoin:

  • Drought-resistant due to long taproot
  • Needs no nitrogen and little phosphate fertiliser
  • Doesn’t cause bloat
  • Thrives on free-draining, alkaline and chalky soils (pH 6.2 or above) and in a wide range of temperatures
  • Not suitable for moisture-retentive or acidic ground
  • Lasts up to five years or more
  • Avoid heavy grazing and poaching that may damage roots


Lucerne is a high-yielding legume, providing a useful source of protein for feeding to cattle and sheep.

Tips for the management of lucerne:

  • Deep taproots naturally fix nitrogen, making it a cost-effective crop on its own or alongside carefully selected companion grasses or cereals
  • Will not grow on heavy land or waterlogged soils that may rot its roots
  • Can be slow to establish and needs nurturing in early stages with adequate micro- and macronutrients
  • Can last four to five years, but the crown must be protected at all times when cutting or grazing

Forage vetches

Vetches are from the legume family.

Benefits of forage vetches:

  • Fast-establishing and continue to grow and fix nitrogen at lower temperatures than clovers so are useful when sown in autumn
  • Improve soil health
  • Can be grown with cereal, e.g. forage rye, or with grass in short-term silage crops

Useful links

Find out more about using chicory and plantain in beef and sheep systems

Read more on growing and feeding lucerne

Watch the webinar on herbal leys: establishment