Without doubt, grass must be the first priority for feeding livestock efficiently and a commitment to selecting quality grass varieties is a route to farm profitability.
However, an unfortunate throwback to the learnings from 2018, where forage crops proved an asset in overcoming grass and forage shortages, may be worth noting. Brassicas, in many situations, play a valuable role for Irish livestock farmers; both for out-wintering or overcoming imminent forage shortages.
As with grass, when considering forage crops, the selection process should also be based around quality, however a good starting point is to consider in advance: when you want to utilize the crop, when will the land for growing the forage crop become vacant and how many animals do you need the crop to feed.
There are several options available to farmers, however, the most popular options for winter forage are kale, hybrid brassicas or forage rape; all of which have their own unique benefits and management practises.
Why Kale might be the suitable option
Kale has the potential to give the greatest yield, when compared to a hybrid brassica or a forage rape. It has the potential to yield between 10-12 tonnes of DM per hectare. Kale should be sown around now, but it is worth noting the field is then out of action for a longer period, and so, you need to factor this into your overall grazing strategy.
Attention must be given to the quality of the variety chosen and how it will feed-out, as there is a significant difference between kale varieties. Some are more suitable than others for grazing animals, while other taller varieties tend to have less leaf, are lower in quality and generally more suitable as bird cover.
A high-quality kale variety such as Maris Kestrel will have a good leaf:stem ratio and good leaf proportion as this is the highest quality part of the plant. Maris Kestrel kale, due to its high digestibility and long utilization period, makes it most suited for cattle and sheep grazing. Animals can utilise the entire plant and it also provides a solution to overcoming late season grazing deficits.
The multi-graze forage crop option
When the window of opportunity for sowing kale has passed, Redstart is the next best option. This rape/kale hybrid brassica offers the highly beneficial combination of rapid growth ability and good all year around performance. If the supply of winter forage is the sole driver for incorporating Redstart into your feeding programme, it is best sown from July to mid-August, so it can be utilised from late October.
If forage for September grazing is your target, Redstart sown now will maximise your return for that period.
Redstart was the hugely popular choice in 2018 to increase feed on farms as a result of the drought. The forage rape genes in Redstart allow the crop to grow quickly, while the kale genes deliver excellent winter hardiness. Redstart is mainly used as a high energy protein crop for out-wintering cattle and sheep.
Finally, if forage rape is the most suited brassica for your system, the quality variety is Stego, generally sown after August 1st, it has the potential to achieve 6 tonnes of DM per hectare and will be available for utilisation from late October onwards. Stego is a very high yielding variety with excellent disease resistance, including mildew. The variety has extremely digestible stems, which allows complete use of the whole plant with minimal residual matter.
Stego offers high energy grazing for cattle and sheep for autumn and winter and is ideal for out-wintering systems.
As with any crop, moisture and optimum growth conditions are critical for them to reach their potential and delayed sowing will impact the performance of any of the crops mentioned above. If conditions are very dry and the presence of moisture is not in sight, the crop will not deliver on its requirement.
For more information on the suitability of forage crops to your farming system and for management techniques, consult with the Germinal technical team or go to https://germinal.ie/products/agriculture/fodder-crops/