Break crops proved to be an invaluable forage

With the primary aim of providing a break crop between reseeding of grass leys, for one Carmarthenshire dairy farm, root crops also provided a much-needed source of extra feed for cows and helped extend dwindling forage reserves.

Dairy Nutrition
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Richard Cole farms in partnership with his son Edward at Llwyngwydd Farm, Whitland, Carmarthenshire, where they run a herd of 200 milking cows across more than 162 hectares (400 acres).

The herd produces an average of 7,900 litres at 4.2% butterfat and 3.3% protein, with all milk going to Muller. Edward says: “We run a rotational grazing system and aim to turn the cows out around March and they will stay outdoors until October."

"Grass is the key part of the herd’s diet and to complement our spring and summer grazing, we aim to take three cuts of good quality grass silage a year, which we feed out with a soya and rape mix as a total mixed ration over winter. This is then topped up with an 18% compound which is fed to yield through the parlour.”

Improving forage productivity

Richard and Edward were looking to reseed some old, poorer performing grass leys to improve their productivity and sought advice on the best type of seed mix to use.

Richard says: “We work closely with Michelle Cross from ForFarmers and she came and had a walk around some of the fields we were planning to reseed. She highlighted the risk of frit fly and leather jackets damaging grass if we sowed new grass seed straight away in place of the older leys."

“She advised I put a break crop in before sowing the new grass seed and suggested sowing a root crop which would also provide some additional forage.”

The advantages of growing a break crop

Michelle also recommended Rapid Root and Winter Graze mixtures to provide a good mix of forage rape, stubble turnips and kale.

She says: “Sowing a break crop between grass leys reduces the risk of pests and improve soil structure. The break crop also provides a potential source of extra feed for livestock, and in hot, dry conditions experienced in previous summers, significantly reducing grass growth and forage yields on-farm, I thought it wise for Richard and Edward to grow something which could be grazed later in the season and help extend forage stocks during winter.”

The crop was sown over 9.3ha (23 acres) of land, established well and was ready to utilise 12-14 weeks after sowing.

Richard says: “We had struggled with grass growth on-farm in summer during dry spells. Not only because we harvested less grass silage, but we also as we had to start feeding it out much earlier in the season to help maintain cow performance and cow health."

“As we had sown the break crops, we were able to turn out about 50 of our pre-bulling heifers, along with in-calf heifers and this provided plenty of good quality grazing between December and April."

Grazing in increments

“If it had not been for the additional forage we would have run out of grass silage to feed the livestock, so it really saved our bacon."

“We also place round baled silage at calculated points and feed them through a ring feeder which is rolled from bale to bale. The inclement weather of winter 2020 was challenging at times, but all came out of it well and finished the winter graze to go to spring grazing.”

The break crops proved so successful that Richard and Edward now plan on incorporating them as part of a regular reseeding schedule across the farm.

Richard says: “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. In spring we have also found it really useful area to apply farmyard manure to when silage ground it too close to harvesting."

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