cows in kale

Filling the forage gap

Last year’s dry summer and high fertiliser and purchased feed prices have made it challenging for farmers to produce enough feed with many dipping into their winter stocks through the summer and autumn.

A quick growing catch crop could be the answer to fill summer grazing gaps. There are a wide range of brassicas and catch crops to choose from which provide nutritious and cost-effective feed for cattle and sheep.

Brassica crops can extend the grazing season, increasing output per hectare and reducing the costs of labour, machinery and housing. As well as being an outstanding feed and a valuable break crop between grass reseeds, brassicas can help restore soil health in both arable and grazing systems.

The first step is to identify when your forage shortfall will be and then work backwards to plan your establishment dates. Crops can become less digestible as they mature, which will reduce use, so avoid sowing too early.

Your crop choice should be based on the number and type of livestock you are feeding, when the land is available for sowing and when the crop will be fed.

Stubble turnips and forage rape are less winter hardy and are best suited for filling summer gaps or extending the grazing season in the autumn.

They are much quicker growing and can be used 10 to 12 weeks from sowing, making them perfect for buffer feeding dairy cows in the summer or fattening lambs in the autumn and winter.

Forage rape is the ideal companion to stubble turnips as it adds extra crude protein content and is more winter hardy.

Rape-kale hybrid brassicas like Swift and Redstart provide high energy summer, autumn or winter grazing for cattle or sheep, with regrowth potential.

Skyfall Bounce Back Brassica is a leafy brassica providing multiple grazings from a single crop. For the best results and multiple grazings it should be sown by mid May. It also has improved tolerance to dry conditions and soils due to its deep, elongated root, making it ideal for filling summer grazing gaps.

If you want to use brassicas to outwinter livestock the most suitable ones are kale and some rape-kale hybrids such as Swift and Redstart, as these are more winter hardy.

Kale is higher yielding and produces a high quality, high dry matter feed with excellent crude protein content. But it takes longer to grow so it needs to be planted by early July.

The table below summarises the different crops, showing the feed values, utilisation period and sowing dates to help you choose which brassica crop will suit your farm.