Video: Forage crop management and preparation key to success

There are plenty of forage crops planted across the country for grazing. Those sown early are coming near the stage that they could be grazed. Weather is the obvious challenge entering these fields.

However, preparation is key and if weather is not allowing your animals out to these crops there is still reason to plan ahead in order to get the maximum utilisation percentage.

AgriLand spoke to James Doran – a beef adviser with Teagasc in Co. Wexford. James gave some of his top tips for grazing these forage crops – such as forage rape or hybrid brassicas – over winter in the short video below.

James explained that the first task to be carried out is to establish the dry matter (DM) content of the crop. From there the stocking rates can be calculated.

As a rough guide, James added that a 1,600kg DM/ac crop could carry 100 ewes/ac/week; 125 store lambs/ac/week; approximately 20 weanlings – weighing 300kg; or eight to 10 dry cows/ac/week.

It is important to note that approximately one third of the animal’s diet will come from a fibre source while grazing at these stocking rates.

Utilisation can vary

Utilisation is the big challenge and if bad weather hits when grazing this figure can fall to as low as 10-20%. However, the target utilisation percentage is 70%.

Utilisation and intake can be increased by feeding fibre sources while grazing. Allocating fresh ground on a daily basis will also improve utilisation as the crop won’t be walked down. Sheep do not have to receive new ground on a daily basis as they are significantly lighter.

Introduce animals gradually

It is essential that the crop is introduced gradually.

“The crop is very high in energy and sugars and very low in digestible fibre. It can cause digestive upsets if animals are introduced quickly,” James explained.

For this reason he recommended on-off grazing during introduction and providing a fibre source.

For the first week you’re just gradually introducing them to the crop.

“It is so high in energy, it’s very close to feeding a high proportion of meal in the diet, so if it’s introduced too quickly animals will get sick, you will see evidence of acidosis and even in severe cases bloat and nitrates poisoning.

“While it’s a super feed quality it just needs to be managed correctly,” James added.

An essential point to note is that once these crops begin to flower they are toxic and should be grazed before this happens. Grazing should not take place once flowering occurs.

Also, feeding forage crops in frosty conditions is not recommended. Only allocate a fresh break once the frost has thawed.

Main points:
  • Test for DM and calculate stocking rate;
  • Introduce animals gradually;
  • Provide a fibre source;
  • Allocate fresh ground on a daily basis;
  • Do not graze once crops have flowered.