A Side of Greens

Grazing turnips help fill in the gaps.

By Becky Mills

A barn full of high quality hay is like money in the bank. But if you’re like most livestock producers, you’d just as soon not make withdrawals until the dead of winter. This is where turnips fit in. They can provide grazing when the summer slump hits or in the fall when your cool season perennials quit growing and your winter annuals aren’t ready.

“Perennial cool season forages like white clover, orchard grass or fescue peter out in July or August when it gets hot,” says Pennsylvania State University forage specialist Marvin Hall. “You can plant some varieties of turnips in May or June and they’ll be ready to graze by August. You can also plant them in August or September and they’ll be ready in October, November or December.”

Turnips, along with kale, rape and Swede, are Brassica crops, and are highly productive and high quality. Hall says research in Southwestern Pennsylvania shows turnips can accumulate dry matter in October as fast as field corn does in August. That yield can supply 160 cow-grazing days or 1,550 ewe-grazing days per acre.

Better yet, turnips provide excellent quality grazing. Crude protein levels in the tops vary from 15 to 25% and 8 to 15% in the roots, depending on the weather and the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied.

Whether you plant in the spring or late summer, Hall says, “I’ve had better success planting in a prepared seedbed. They don’t like competition early on and weeds can really knock the stand down.” However, he adds, “you can no till them. That works great to beef up or thicken a stand.”

When they are ready to graze, Hall recommends strip grazing. “Turnips are very succulent and will crush in the ground easily. Use a front fence to let livestock have 6 to 12 hours of grazing, not 4 or 5 days or you’ll waste a lot of forage.”

He adds, “I like a back fence until the final grazing of the season, then you’ll get re-growth from the tubers. They can re-grow several times.” However, he says they won’t survive the winter.

The only down sides to the nutritious greens are they can’t be harvested and baled and they’re almost too digestible. Hall says they have the same effect on an animal’s rumen as feeding straight concentrate. For that reason he recommends supplementing them with dry hay.

For more information on Brassica crops see:

Read the full article, “Match Maker,” on matching hay quality to livestock needs >>