12 April 1996

Kales flexibility just the job

GROWING summer kale for grazing provides one Dorset milk producer with valuable green feed in July and August.

James Cossins, who farms 567ha (1400- acre) Rawston Farm, Blandford, has grown kale after rye for many years.

"Kale gives extra flexibility in a dry summer by providing a useful green feed and when its wet spare grass goes into silage," he says.

Mr Cossins turns out his 460 cows, managed in four herds, in mid-March, depending on ground conditions. He sows 2ha (5 acres) of forage rye the previous autumn for each herd. The cows strip graze the rye for three to four weeks. Manure or slurry is then spread before ploughing for kale.

"Residual weed-killer is essential and we try to drill when rain is forecast," he says. The kale seeds and residual weed spray need moisture. Kale is drilled by the end of April for grazing six weeks later.

Varieties are chosen on the basis of Somerset-based Kingshay Farming Trust results. These have shown that summer kale varieties grow faster, but are less winter hardy, than winter ones. This spring Mr Cossins will drill the summer kale varieties Bittern and Merlin.

He spreads slug pellets and, although the seed is dressed for frit-fly, a pesticide spray is sometimes needed.

Mr Cossins also finds the crop responsive to nutrients. He applies up to 125kg/ha (100 units/acre) of nitrogen and up to 100kg/ha (80 units/acre) of phosphate and potash, depending on previous manure applications.

"We have grown summer stubbles but these suffered sclerotinia and were ideal to graze for only two weeks," he says. "Kale stays leafy and fresh and can be grazed for longer before it loses its feed value."

The kale is strip grazed. It is then rationed, depending on how long it must last, to avoid waste or underfeeding.

"Cows graze the kale by day and big bale silage is offered in the field," he says. "Because the ground will be ploughed after the kale, poaching is not a drawback."

Mr Cossins sees no benefit in baling kale because his soils allow grazing of autumn-sown kale into December so saving on baling. &#42

James Cossins strip grazes his cows on forage rye before sowing kale.