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Break crop provides invaluable forage

Seasonal challenge Seasonal challenge17-6-2020

With the primary aim of providing a break between grass leys, root crops have also allowed one Carmarthenshire-based business to extend dwindling forage reserves. We spoke to them to find out more.

Breakcrop

Introducing an alternative forage mix to the crop rotation has helped to provide a source of additional feed, particularly in a dry year, on Richard Cole’s Welsh dairy unit.

Richard runs a 200-cow herd, plus 180 followers, in partnership with his son, Edward, on a 162-hectare unit based at Llwyngwydd Farm, in Whitland. The herd, which calves all year round, averages 7,900 litres, at 4.2% butterfat and 3.3% protein. Milk is sold to Muller. 

“We run a rotational grazing system, turning the cows out in March and they’re typically rehoused in October,” says Edward.

“Grass is the key part of the herd’s ration and, to complement our spring and summer grazing, we aim to take three cuts of good quality grass silage a year. “This is fed, as part of the TMR, with a maize and rape mixture, during the winter. Individual cows are then ‘topped up’ to yield, through the parlour, with an 18% protein concentrate.” 

Renovating leys

Richard and Edward were looking to re-seed some tired and poorly performing grass leys to improve the productivity of their grassland and sought advice on the best type of seed mix to use. 

“We work closely with ForFarmers’ Michelle Cross and she walked some of the fields that we were planning to re-seed,” says Richard. “She highlighted the risk of frit fly and leather jacket damage to the grass if we reseeded straight away and suggested that we put in a break crop before sowing the new ley. She also suggested that we opt for a root crop, which would also provide the herd with some additional forage.” 

Michelle recommended Rapid Root and Winter Graze mixtures that would provide a good mix of forage rape, stubble turnips and kale. Rapid Root is a 60% forage rape, 35% stubble turnip and 5% kale mix and combines the quick establishment and high protein yield of the forage rape, while the stubble turnips provide good energy. Winter Graze, which is 60% stubble turnips, 30% forage rape and 5% kale, is ideal for sowing after winter cereals and has good winter hardiness.

“And, just as importantly, sowing a break crop between grass leys would reduce the risk of pests and improve soil structure,” explains Michelle. “The break crop also provides a potential source of extra feed for cattle and, with the hot and dry conditions experienced in previous summers significantly reducing grass growth and forage yields on their farm, I thought it wise for Richard and Edward to grow something that could be grazed later in the season and help extend his forage stocks during the winter period.”

This year

Cole's break crop

They drilled eight hectares of the crop in April. It established well and was ready to graze just 12 weeks after sowing.

“We had struggled with grass growth in the summer during dry spells,” says Richard. “And not only because we harvested less grass silage, but also because we had to start feeding it out much earlier in the season to help maintain cow performance and cow health. 

“Because we had sown the break crops, we were able to turn out around 50 of our pre-bulling heifers along with in-calf heifers and this provided plenty of good quality grazing between December and April. “If it hadn’t been for the additional forage then we would have run out of grass silage, so it really saved our bacon.” 

Regular reseeding

The break crops have proven to be so successful that Richard and Edward now plan to incorporating them as part of a regular reseeding rotation schedule across the farm. 

“As well as extending our forage supplies, using the root crops also freed up space in the sheds, which was very handy. So they are now firmly part of our reseeding plans going forward,” says Richard. 

“Root crops seem to be a great asset to the farm; providing a break crop when reseeding grass that has more benefits than just improving soil structure and reducing the risk of pest damage.”

For more information

For more details about managing your forage management, break crops or reseeding please contact your local Account Manager or contact our specialist forage team here.