Forage crops: What options do I have?

Due to the lack of silage supplies on farms across the country, farmers may look at forage crops as a viable option for producing rapid bulk and stretching silage.

Germinal’s technical manger Nicky Byrne outlined some of the options available to farmers at a recent fodder event in Co. Wexford.

“Forage crops can be incorporated or substituted into our reseeding programmes; they will provide a lot of rapid bulk.

“Some of these forage crops can be used as a very valuable catch crop by tillage farmers and either sold back in the form of bales or grazed in-situ,” he explained.

What makes a good forage crop?

There are many options available to farmers. Unfortunately, it is too late to sow kale. However, another crop option for farmers is Redstart – a hybrid brassica.

“The best alternative that I can see is Redstart; it is a hybrid between kale and rape. The beauty about Redstart is its rapid ability to grow.

“We know we can grow a full crop of Redstart in approximately 90 days; it’s fit for grazing after a 90-day growing period,” Nicky explained.

Redstart has a similar feed value to kale and Nicky explained that a crop of Redstart – sown early-to-mid August – is capable of yielding 6t/ha of dry matter (DM).

A disc harrow can be used to prepare the seedbed and it can be sown with a one-pass at a rate of 3.5-4.0kg/ac; fertiliser application can also be split.

brassicas forage crop kale

Nicky noted that – sown after grass – this crop requires 80un of nitrogen (N) and recommended that half of this should be front-loaded at sowing. The remaining N can be top-dressed after three weeks.

Redstart is a relatively low-maintenance crop. However, it cannot be sown in a successive rotation due to club root. Redstart can be either baled or ensiled; however, extra wrap will be needed on bales to prevent damage from the stalks.

A 6t/ha crop of Redstart – sown early-to-mid August – would be capable of supporting 25 (300kg) weanlings for 38 days, Nicky noted.

Limitations of redstart

Redstart should only make up 70% of the animal’s overall diet. A source of roughage (baled silage) must also be fed and these bales should be placed in the field before germination.

Nicky also noted that forage crops have an unbalanced-mineral profile and that they are particularly deficient in iodine, selenium and cobalt. Farmers can use a bolus to make up for this imbalance.

“There can also be dangers associated with toxicity. When you hit mid-February, these crops can go reproductive and you would want to have them gone and utilised at that stage,” Nicky added.

Other options

Nicky highlighted that rape and stubble turnip are other viable options. However, rape might not have the same yield potential as Redstart.

A rape crop sown early-to-mid August is going to offer 5t/ha of DM in comparison to 6t/ha with Redstart, Nicky said.

“Stubble turnip is another rapid-growing crop. We know we can grow a crop and have it ready for grazing within two months of sowing.

“This crop has to be used fast once they are fit for grazing; they have to be grazed in-situ and a crop sown in early August has the potential to grow 5t/ha of DM,” he concluded.