The Suffolk Wildlife Trust native Hebridean sheep that aftermath graze the meadows are very hardy and able to get a balanced diet from browsing a wide range of plants. This includes grazing on woody material, so they do a great job trimming up along the hedge and fence lines, preventing scrub encroaching into the grassland.
The diversity of the herb-rich meadows really helps to provide the sheep with their ‘five a day’ and a good range of essential nutrients and trace elements.
However, the availability of nutrients and trace elements can also be affected by the local geology and soils. For example, in Suffolk, some of our soils are naturally deficient in Selenium. In sheep, lack of this element can cause poor growth and white muscle disease. So to counteract such deficiencies we provide the sheep with mineral blocks (salt licks) to ensure their nutritional needs are met.
It is always interesting to observe that, on the herb-rich meadows with surrounding native hedges, the mineral blocks don’t seem to be very quickly used – which may demonstrate the value of the diversity for providing a well-balanced diet for livestock - Another string in the herb-rich meadow’s bow and reason why they are important!