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Stackyard News Oct 07

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    Outwintering on Brassicas Extends Forage Supply

Outwintering growing cattle and spring-calving cows on a variety of brassicas can be extremely useful in extending forage supplies to reduce feeding costs, suggests the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX). But only if the right varieties are grown and utilised with correct management to ensure high levels of production, performance and animal welfare.


Kale, turnips, swedes, stubble turnips and forage rape typically cost less to produce per unit of dry matter than grass silage, and overall wintering costs tend to be far lower when the capital costs of the systems are included, providing they are grazed in situ rather than cut and carted.

As well as extending winter forage supplies, brassicas can be valuable both in maximising production per hectare and in reducing building, bedding and feeding costs. Summer sowing after grazing or first cut silage-making generally provides forage for grazing from the autumn to April, enabling new leys to be undersown in cereals or forage maize drilled the following spring.

For the greatest success in outwintering stock on brassicas, EBLEX recommends:

  • Budgeting feeds carefully and planning ahead to ensure good access and grass runbacks that provide adequately dry and sheltered lying areas;
  • Selecting free-draining fields that can profit from grassland renewal;
  • Soil-testing the fields and correcting any nutrient shortages or imbalances ahead of sowing;
  • Using the appropriate drilling method for the conditions – direct drilling may help retain soil moisture and improve poaching resistance, but ploughing can result in a better crop;
  • Monitoring crops closely throughout, and particularly for the first six weeks of establishment, to identify and combat any pest or disease problems;
  • Putting any extra feed required (straw or silage bales) into the field before the winter to minimise the need for vehicular traffic on wet ground;
  • Managing grazing allocations to match daily feed requirements closely to available dry matter supplies while minimising poaching pressures;
  • Introducing stock to brassicas carefully, never when they are hungry and only for short periods over at least the first 7-10 days;
  • Limiting brassicas to no more than 50% of the animals’ daily dry matter intake, providing the remainder of the diet as good sources of fibre like hay, straw or high dry matter silage;
  • Providing adequate water at all times (3-5 litres/kg of feed dry matter);
  • Maintaining a good mineral status in all stock in the run-up to and throughout the grazing period, with readily-accessible minerals always on offer;
  • Housing pregnant cows one month before calving for easier control and management as well as to ensure the most hygienic conditions for newborn calves; and,
  • Inspecting grazing animals regularly for health, welfare and body condition, addressing any problems that arise promptly and effectively.

EBLEX and British Seed Houses have established seven outwintering demonstration farms across the country as the basis for a series of practical meetings over the coming winter. Details are available from the EBLEX Beef Better Returns Programme team on 0870 2418829.

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link Rapid Finishing of Cattle Still Provides Best Returns
link Applications Open for New Energy Crops Scheme

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