The French eat a salad plant called endive, the Dutch blanch its leafy base and call it whitloof, but New Zealand has bred leafy types of chicory the same plant, for livestock grazing. This herb is easy to grow and makes great stock feed.
Chicory as forage is moderately persistent and has a strong deep taproot and a rosette of broad succulent leaves. As spring soil temperatures rise, chicory springs into growth, producing many leaves from its basal crown. If not managed well, however, it can grow tall – two metres or more – and bolt into a flower. When grazed chicory stands can persist until the crown dies, usually between 2 and 5 years after sowing.
Chicory is summer-active, growing heavy crops of very palatable feed in spring, summer, and autumn, but is usually dormant in winter. It can be quickly digested by stock and has given excellent animal performance with cattle, lambs, and deer. Grow it on fertile, free-draining soils and give it rotational grazing or cut it for silage.
Avoid chicory being overgrazed when it is growing in mixed pastures if you can, especially with deer. However, be aware that topping a stemmy chicory stand can let rainwater collect in the hollow stems, which may allow crown diseases to kill plants. Its rapid digestion in the animal’s rumen accounts for very high liveweight gains from chicory pastures – and also helps animals to maintain good health.
Another perennial herb, plantain, also performs well in pastures. This well-known weed has been developed into a vigorous upright-growing leafy grazing herb that is highly palatable to animals. It establishes rapidly and is very drought and pest tolerant. Plantain, like chicory, is quickly digested and is high in some minerals, especially boosting the uptake of both copper and selenium.
Manage it to minimise seedhead growth as plants with seedheads have poorer feed value. Plantain also tolerates summer heat and can be valuable during summer in warmer regions. It can be included in many pasture mixtures, and especially for dryland or warmer regions. Its content rarely exceeds 20 % of the pasture but it adds quality to the livestock diet.