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Forage options for Cattle and Sheep by Mary McEvoy from Germinal Seeds

Forage options for Cattle and Sheep

Without doubt, grass has to be the first priority for feeding livestock efficiently, however forage crops can play a valuable and cost effective role both for out-wintering livestock and overcoming grass shortages during the summer months. With increasing stocking rates on farms brassicas provide an option for out-wintering stock where housing is limited.

Site selection

Choose a dry field and avoid steep slopes. Avoid fields close to water-courses. A one-in-five year rotation is advised to reduce the risk of club-root. Soil pH should be 6.2 to 6.7 and P & K Index 3 for optimum performance. Brassicas have a high requirement for N and P and adequate supply of these nutrients is critical to maximise the yield potential of the crop. It is important to remain with your allowances within the nitrates directive. Generally sown into a cultivated seedbed, but can also be direct drilled or broadcast (if broadcasting you will need to increase the seed rate). Roll the seed after sowing and monitor the crop as it establishes. Apply adequate N, P & K at sowing and top dress the crop to maximize yield. Speak to your Bandon Co-op rep for advice on fertilizer applications required for these crops.

Grazing management

Stock should be introduced onto brassicas slowly. Brassicas are low in fibre and supplementing with a fibre source e.g silage bales is critical for animal health. Put these in place in the summer to reduce work load and avoid soil damage with machinery in the winter. In addition, ensure animals will have constant access to fresh water when grazing the crop. Graze in long narrow strips to ensure all animals can graze at the same time and also to minimise trampling of the crop at feeding. Provide minerals/ bolus animals – speak to your vet to ensure animals receive the necessary minerals.

Maris Kestrel - Kale

Kale is suitable for sheep and cattle grazing. The whole plant has excellent digestibility value and the leaf:stem ratio is very high with this kale variety. Kale has a long utilisation period. Ideal late summer/ early autumn feed for cattle or sheep. Sow May-June and utilize Nov-Feb. Yields of 10 t DM/ha are achievable.

Redstart – hybrid brassica

Redstart is a hybrid brassica (kale x forage rape cropss) offering the highly beneficial combination of rapid growth ability and good all year round performance. The forage rape genes give it the ability to grow quickly while the kale genes deliver excellent winter hardiness. Redstart is mainly used as a high energy protein crop for out wintering cattle and sheep. Sow from April to August (sowing date will determine yield and utlilisation period). Earlier sown will allow for repeated grazings. Yields of 6-8 t DM/ha are achievable.

Stego – Forage Rape

Stego is a high yielding forage rape variety. Extremely digestible stems, allowing complete use of the whole plant with minimal residual matter. A high energy grazing for cattle and sheep, suited to autumn/ winter grazing. Ideal for out wintering. Expect yields of 4-6 t DM/ha. Later sowing will reduce yield.

In a later article we will follow up and provide information on grazing and managing forage crops to get optimum animal performance from the crops when grazing over the winter period.

Bales placed in the field during the summer minimise damage to the crop.

Thanks to Mary McEvoy from Germinal Seeds for providing us with this article!