By Con McCarthy
Unfortunately a shortage of Winter fodder is almost a certainty this coming Winter. There is still time for farmers to plant winter forage crops to help alleviate fodder shortfalls. Various options are available in the form of grasses or brassica crops. In the case of grasses ,the seed that will be planted in the coming days can provide grazing , zero grazing or silage cutting options for this autumn and next spring. These sown lands can be reseeded to permanent pasture next spring or returned to tillage if necessary following these crops.
Westerwold grass is the fastest growing of all grass species and is used when high production is required for 3-6 months after sowing. Westerwolds are annuals and are used to produce high yields within this short period of time. Westerwolds establish rapidly and grow vigorously at soil temperatures of five degrees or higher. They provide options for grazing, zero grazing and bale or pit silage. The crop can also be grazed in situ or used as an early turnout option if sown in September. Note : Avoid autumn sowing in frost affected sites as Westerwolds are not noted for winter hardiness. Sowing rate is 36 kgs /ha or 15 kgs per acre. Appropriate NPK fertiliser is needed at sowing time.
Italian Ryegrass is an annual / biennial type grass that is winter hardy and can be grown for up to two years but will require cutting during the growing season to encourage new growth and prevent it going to seed in the 2nd year.
It is Ideal if one is looking to get a silage cut in late September/early October and then planning for spring grazing or three silage cuts next year. If just needed for this coming winter, Westerwolds will bulk better. Italian ryegrass is one of the fastest growing grasses available to farmers. It establishes well and starts growing early in the following spring. Italian ryegrass has a rapid regrowth after cutting and the quality of the grass is very high in respect of digestibility. It thrives on all kind of soils and is mainly used for silage conservation in short duration leys. New varieties have good persistence suitable for 2-3 years use. Similar to Westerwolds the sowing rate is 36 kgs /ha or 15 kgs per acre and appropriate NPK fertiliser is needed at sowing time.
Without doubt grass has to be the first priority to feeding livestock efficiently, however forage crops can play a valuable role both for out-wintering livestock and overcoming grass shortfalls during the Summer months. There are a number of options available to farmers when choosing fodder crops, but there are three fundamental questions to answer before deciding on the most cost-effective type and variety of fodder crop for your livestock production system.
- When do you want to use the crop?
- When will the land for growing fodder crops become vacant?
- How many animals will a fodder crop feed?
Cost effective home grown fodder can cut feeding costs and more importantly for this coming winter can fill feeding gaps due to reduced silage stocks. Brassicas include a wide range of fodder crops that offer dairy and beef farmers an alternative source of home produced feed. Hybrid rape and forage rape can extend autumn grazing and support out wintering systems. Brassicas can be grown successfully in many situations. However it is important to select the optimum site to achieve best results for enterprise performance and to ensure cross compliance requirements are met.
Suitable situations include:
- Free draining soils
- No threat to streams or watercourses
- A minimum of four years since last Brassica was sown.
- Suitable shelter for stock
- Avoid steeply sloping fields.
- Allow for a run back to stubble or grass for gradual introduction and lying space.
As we move into early August the most suitable Brassica species that is appropriate for sowing from now is forage rape. Rape is capable of producing a large bulk of fodder in a short period of months in the order of 5 tonnes dry matter per hectare. The protein content is a useful 18 – 20 %. It is not as winter hardy as Kale so site selection is important. Fodder Rape is also an ideal pioneer crop in the reclamation of hill and marginal. Seeding rate is 3 to 4 kgs per acre depending on drill or broadcast. Appropriate levels of NPK are needed at sowing time plus follow up top dressing with N.
Rape is extremely useful as a feed for weanlings and dry animals and very good performance can be achieved with good grazing conditions . Introduce rape gradually by restricting intakes. Always feed hay or silage as a roughage source and supplement with essential minerals such as phosphorus and iodine.
Contact the team at Barrett Agri for best advice.