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Using Brassicas in Autumn for Extended Grazing

15 July 2014


Brassicas, such as kale, forage rape and grazing turnips, can help hold off the need for concentrate feeding as winter approaches and keep feeding costs down, but only when grown and utilised well, advises EBLEX livestock scientist Poppy Frater.

The ideal site for brassicas is free draining, away from water courses, with some shelter for livestock yet sufficient air flow to allow fields to dry out and a dry runback area.

The soil pH must be 5.8 to 6.5, with fertiliser applied according to soil test results and weeds should be controlled before sowing.

Brassicas offer a wide window of potential sowing dates and some crops can be fed through to the following spring.

Brassicas should always be fed with ad lib fibrous forage, to improve rumen ‘scratch factor’. They should form no more than 50 per cent of the diet initially, with stock introduced to the crop for one to two hours a day on full stomachs to avoid digestive upsets. Slowly build up to unrestricted access after seven to 10 days.

Some farmers feed up to 70 per cent brassicas in the diet with no issues, but overfeeding can reduce intake and performance, with health problems such as iodine deficiency (goitre) and anaemia.

Strip grazing using electric fencing and moving it every one or two days will reduce wastage. Each strip should be long and narrow to allow all stock access to the crop at once.

To set up strip grazing, first determine animal total feed allowance, typically 1.5 – 4 per cent of bodyweight per day.

Allocate the lower percentage when animals need to maintain or lose condition and a higher rate for maximum growth rates. Always monitor stock condition to validate the feeding allocations.

Example daily feed allowance calculation: 100 lambs (30kg) require 4 per cent of bodyweight in DM per day equating to 1.2kg each or 120kg/day for the group. At 50 per cent inclusion, the brassica demand would be 60kg/day. If the fresh crop yield is 8t DM/ha at 10 per cent DM and utilisation is 70 per cent, the DM yield/m2 is 70 per cent x 0.8 = 0.56kg DM/m2. Therefore, the daily area required is 60kg ÷ 0.56kg = 107m2.If the feed face is 53m long, then the fence can be moved 2m/day.

July 2014


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