Brassicas

Forage Use: Grazing Dairy, Beef, Horses, and Sheep

Forage brassicas are a broad family covering everything from purple top turnips to kale. These plants readily cross with each other and most of the varieties we sell are actually crosses between turnips and forage rape. Brassicas see most usage as ’emergency forage’ in drought years, but they can be used to provide forage any time from spring through winter. Early maturing forage rapes can be ready to graze in as few as 45 while kales may take over 100 days. Dry matter accumulation in turnips, in October, is similar to that of a corn crop in August. The diversity in brassicas is a strength we can use on most farms to provide excellent forage in specific times of the year.

Establishment

Brassicas can be planted late spring to early fall. Allow at least 45 days of growth before you plan to use the forage. For multiple grazings, plant in late spring. Plant in the early fall for single late fall or early winter grazing, similar to stockpiling fescue. Brassicas can be no-tilled or drilled into firm seedbed in conventional tillage and should be seeded at 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Weed pressure needs to be suppressed for up to two weeks after emergence. Seed can be broadcast and incorporated by cultipacking. Brassicas will smother out most weeds once they are established. They can be successfully no-till seeded at a lower rate into established pastures. Brassicas are not well adapted to wet or poorly drained soils.

Management

Since brassicas are very high in crude protein and energy and low in fiber, animals may need some roughage in the form of dry hay or mature pasture if they are eating pure stands of brassicas. Mixing the brassicas with oats or sudangrass can solve the problem as well. Excessive fertilization of both nitrogen and potassium should be avoided. Usually 50 units of N is enough to grow a wonderful crop of brassicas. They are very good at recycling nutrients left by previous crops. A good practice is to prevent brassica consumption in dairy animals two hours prior to milking to prevent off-flavors in the milk.

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