18 August 1995

Stubble turnip stretcher

By Sue Rider

DEVON dairy farmer Mike Frankpitt has evaded a forage shortfall this summer by planning ahead as early as April.

Left with limited carry-over forage stocks after last winter he decided to grow catch crops as a summer buffer for his 180 cows. The crops would also allow early entry for an autumn grass reseed.

The medium loam soil of Mr Frankpitts 150ha (370-acre) Rix Farm, Tiverton, is not especially drought-prone, but it sees little of its 900mm (36in) rainfall average in summer. For that reason Mr Frankpitt doesnt rely on grazed grass from late June for his year-round calving herd.

This year stubble turnips and kale are providing the crucial summer buffer feed and should ensure the farm has sufficient winter forage once its 40ha (100 acres) of maize are harvested. That is despite the fact that first-cut grass silage yields were down 10%.

Mr Frankpitt sowed 1.8ha (4.5 acres) of stubble turnips on May 4. His 100 milkers have been strip grazing them since July.

On the advice of Somerset-based Kingshay Farming Trust, he also drilled a kale strip at the far end of the field of stubbles. The idea was to provide grazing once the digestibility of the stubble turnips fell, so extending the autumn grazing period. "Stubble turnips tend to become less palatable after six weeks, and especially so in dry weather," says Mr Frankpitt.

This year he has drilled Barkant stubble turnips and Maris Kestrel kale. But since Kingshay research has highlighted that some fodder varieties outperform others by as much as 30% dry matter, he will sow different varieties next year. The stubble turnip variety Vollenda will be on his revised list.

Cows strip-graze the stubble turnips after evening milking for three hours before being turned out to pasture. Intakes have averaged 12kg/cow/day. In addition to grazing, the cows are offered about 18kg/cow/day of a straights mix fed in two feeds. The ration comprises brewers grains, citrus pulp, Brazilian soya, caustic wheat, fishmeal, vitamins and minerals.

It has been devised to help overcome an energy gap in the cows ration that was reducing milk proteins.

Metabolic profiles taken by the farms vet had also identified that the cows were short of energy.

"We replaced the maize gluten in the ration and introduced caustic-treated wheat and more soya," says Mr Frankpitt.

He will introduce winter forage to the diet shortly but without the stubble turnips would have started feeding these valuable fodder stocks weeks ago.