Time to think about alternative summer grazing crops

A natural drop in grass yield in July and August is widely recognised. But many are also predicting a hot, dry summer, bringing with it the added challenge of grass burn-off.


Now is the time to start preparing for such events, and alternative summer grazing crops may be the answer.


Brassicas provide a valuable cash crop and offer perfect entry into the following crop, be it grass or winter wheat, says Ben Wixey, grass and root seed manager at Wynnstay.


“Grazing in situ also comes with the added benefit of NPK cycling. This is highly beneficial when considering high fertiliser costs.”


Deciding on which crop is right for you depends on when you want to use it and what stock you are grazing, says Martin Titley, marketing manager for forage crops at Limagrain UK.


“If you want a crop that will be ready for August grazing, a May sowing of stubble turnips may be the answer.


“A leafy, high protein stubble turnip or kale is probably the best option for dairy herds, whereas sheep farmers could really benefit from putting in stubble turnips or rape for summer grazing.


“Stubble turnips are not as high yielding as grass, but they are a good way of providing a quick bite, taking just 12-14 weeks to reach grazing height.”


Mr Wixey believes a non-bulbing stubble turnip provides an ideal grazing crop for dairy cows. “Dairy cows are not interested in grazing bulbs – a crop such as Tyfon provides an ideal large-leafed plant.”


John Williams, Weston Lullingfields, Shrewsbury, has been using Tyfon as an alternative grazing crop for his dairy cows for 16 years.


“We initially wanted to provide an alternative crop to help deal with the grass dip in July; the fact we have continued to grow the crop for 16 years shows how successful it has been.


“We opted for a leafy variety to maximise palatability. We have tried a kale-type crop, but we had problems with cows leaving a lot of stalk, so we went back to Tyfon.”


Turnips or kale can be a good option as part of a rotation, says Mr Titley. “Both crops can be drilled after first-cut silage and finished by September to put ground back into grass in autumn.”


The added advantage of kale is its flexibility in grazing period. Kale planted in May can be grazed in the summer or carried over for grazing in the winter. With stubble turnips and rape, you do not have this option.


But Mr Wixey suggests summer grazing kale does not allow the crop to establish. “Kale has significant growing costs, requiring large amounts of fertiliser and at this early stage in growth is not as cost-effective to feed as in winter.”


An important factor to consider when spring-drilling brassicas, is the added threat of flea beetle, adds Mr Titley. “Flea beetles represent a real problem. They can completely devastate a crop if left unchecked.


“I would strongly advise anyone drilling at this time to use coated seeds and ensure the crop is checked regularly; this is an everyday job not a weekly one.


“It is essential any problem is identified early so the crop can be sprayed. Once the plant has reached the 4-5 leaf stage it should be okay.”

























Alternative summer grazing crop costs

 

Cost of growing


Cost/t of utilised DM


Stubble turnips


£128.43/acre


£67.88/t


Rape


£169.15/acre


£109.27/t


Kale


£206.99/acre


£68.38/t


Source: Kingshay