22 May 1998

Cows love summer stubble turnips…

Forage crops provide a

valuable feed to graze in

summer, and reduce reliance on buffer feeding.

Jessica Buss reports

STUBBLE turnips stimulate spring calvers appetites so that they continue to milk well in the summer. taking the pressure off grazing.

Thats the reason why Richard Abell, White House, Little Cowarne, Herefords, grows 1.6-2ha (4-5 acres) of stubble turnips to last his 70-cow herd six to eight weeks.

Cows calve all year round and average 5944 litres, with 4794 litres from forage, and are fed 600kg of concentrates a year. "Cows need little concentrate when fed good quality forage."

"Turnips provide something different for the cows, stimulating their appetite at a time when milk yield seems to drop off and grass quality is deteriorating," he says.

Each night from early July cows are allocated a 0.9m (3ft) strip of turnips about 150m (500ft) long across the field. This takes the pressure off grazing, allowing 8-12ha (20-30 acres) of grass after second cut to grow for grazing when turnips are finished, and in most years buffer feeding silage is held off until the autumn.

Stubble turnips have been grown for 15 years, allowing an early entry to grass reseeds, on sloping land not suited to cereals or maize, says Mr Abell. He grows 11ha (27 acres) of maize and about 12ha (30 acres) of cereals each year on the 73ha (180-acre) farm.

The farm, on heavy clay soils is not drought prone. This means Mr Abell favours turnips over other forage crops such as kale which takes longer to grow. While it can be grazed later in the year, his ground is too prone to poaching. Turnips are easy to grow, are ready for grazing in about eight weeks and are finished in mid-August.

"Turnips must be sown early to achieve the best yields," stresses Mr Abell. Delaying sowing to graze off grass or cut for silage reduces yields and he prefers to have a good crop to feed in July.

He usually sows seed, this year the variety is Volenda, in late April after applying slurry and ploughing up the grass ley in winter or spring. However, wet weather delayed ploughing and drilling until the first week of May this spring.

After ploughing land receives phosphate and potash, applied in a 0:24:24 compound at 250kg/ha (100kg/acre). It is also limed if needed, as was the case this year to ensure the pH is above six and is worked down with a power harrow. Seed sown at 7.5kg/ha (2.5kg/acre) is mixed with 250kg/ha (100kg/acre) of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and broadcast on to the field which is then rolled. Mr Abell does all the preparation and sowing himself using the farms equipment.

Weed sprays are unnecessary because turnip leaves cover the ground in about two weeks, although fat hen will invade turnips grown in a field for more than two consecutive years, he warns. But for the last three years Mr Abell has sprayed an insecticide for flea beetle.

Turnips have often been grown in a field for two years before reseeding grass to give the field a longer break. However, after last years stubble turnip crop Mr Abell drilled Italian ryegrass for an early bite in spring. This will be grazed early next spring before ploughing for turnips again, after which he will grow a longer grass ley.

Jeremy Hunt

Ploughing for stubble turnips had to wait until early May this year because the field was too wet, says Richard Abell. After ploughing a dressing of lime was applied to lower soil pH.

TASTY TURNIPS

&#8226 Protect cow yield in summer.

&#8226 Take pressure off grass supply.

&#8226 Higher yields when sown early.

&#8226 Allow August grass reseed.