Growing fodder crops on some farms can be an effective way of easing the pressure placed on housing over the winter months.
Fodder crops are also beneficial for animal performance and reduce the stress placed on silage supplies.
Sowing a fodder crop offers farmers a cost-effective winter feed to increase liveweight gains in youngstock.
It also offers a solution to a lack of availability of winter housing – these animals will require less silage than housed animals.
Fodder crops can also be incorporated into a reseeding programme, with grazed fodder crops offering an ideal seed bed for an early spring reseed.
But before farmers consider planting a fodder crop there are a number of questions they should ask themselves, such as:
- Is the land suitable to grow and graze forage crops?
- When do you plan to graze the crop?
- When will the land for the potential crop become free for cultivation and sowing?
- What type of stock and how many do you plan to graze on the crop?
Where to sow
Fodder crops can thrive on a variety of soil types, but you should select land that is free draining if possible.
As with grass, a soil pH of 6.0-6.5 is ideal and you should consider flatter fields, if possible, as this can prevent run off in wet conditions.
It is also important to note that some form of roughage is needed, with silage bales placed at certain points in the field usually the selected choice.
Although the fodder crop will be the majority of the animals’ diet, they still require a roughage in the form of hay or silage to make up about 30% of their diet.
There are also a number of other considerations that should be looked at before putting animals onto these crops.
Kale and rape crops are low in some elements such as iodine, copper, selenium and cobalt.
So, only animals that are in good condition and have no underlying health issues should be used to graze fodder crops.
Furthermore, the weather during the months when these crops will be grazed can be harsh, so only the fittest animals should be out-wintered.
It is also important to ensure that there is fresh water available and a sheltered, dry lie-back area should be available for the stock.