12 April 1996

Stubble turnips fill the mid-season grazing gap

Spring-sown fodder crops fill the mid-season grazing gap on drought prone farms. They are also valuable in using heavy late spring dressings of slurry.

Jessica Buss reports

LAST summer stubble turnips were an insurance policy that paid off for Dorset producer Charles Coffin.

The 2ha (5 acres) he grew at 80ha (200 acre) Cross Farm, Leigh, Sherborne, provided valuable forage for his 130-cow herd when there was no grass available.

"The stubble turnips gave the cows a reason to graze and kept them happy," he says. "Without them cows would have been on full winter rations and eaten more of the winter stock of silage."

"Using stubble turnips as a top-up in a normal year concentrates cows on a smaller acreage when grass growth is slow. They can go out to stubbles, then onto a couple of grass fields later in the day."

This year he aims to grow 3ha (7 acres) and will split the drilling to extend the grazing season.

After an early graze a field that is destined for an autumn grass reseed is spread with any slurry in the pit and then ploughed.

Seed will be drilled with a pneumatic drill at 3.5kg/ha (1.4kg/acre) in late April. Last year Mr Coffin drilled the variety Barkant but this year will sow Vollenda on the back of its useful performance in Kingshay Trust studies.

Once the field is drilled and rolled it will be irrigated with dirty water for a couple of weeks, a practice Mr Coffin believes reduces reliance on rain.

The crop needs sufficient fertiliser and the pH should be above 6.5 or lime must be applied. He applies a compound fertiliser to the seedbed and the crop is top-dressed with extra nitrogen and potash.

The stubble turnips are grazed from mid-July to the end of August. Mr Coffin rations the turnip grazing by eye. Cows are introduced gradually to the crop for it takes time for their digestive systems to get used to them. It also helps to have straw or some forage such as baled silage available to balance the lush feed, he adds.

To stop cows trampling the turnips Mr Coffin suggests ensuring there is a long feed face in the field. This means the electric fence needs moving only a little each day. &#42

&#8226 Bridge forage shortfalls.

&#8226 Can be grazed 8-12 weeks after sowing.

&#8226 Extend the grazing season.

Charles Coffin: "Stubble turnips gave the cows a reason to graze."