Archive: no is the time to assess outwintering crops

This page has been archived and no longer updated. more info

With such excellent weather and growing conditions, most of this year’s brassica crops are looking good, says Helen Mathieu, from Germinal. There are of course the odd exceptions to that where perhaps there has been a lack of moisture at a crucial growth stage, or nutrient availability has been limiting, coupled with pest damage. But, generally, we haven’t seen the difficult and challenging growing conditions caused by the wet and cold of previous seasons. 

If you haven’t already done so, now is probably the time to go and assess the crop and calculate just how much you have to feed this winter. Estimate how many grazing days the field is likely to provide and what the daily area allowance is likely to be. 

Have a good walk into the crop (on the heavier crops this will not be easy!)  and try to estimate the likely yield.  If possible, cut out some square metres of the crop in areas that you think will be roughly representative of the whole field, and weigh them. Brassica dry matters will be between 12 and 15%. If your meter square weighs 6kg fresh weight x 15% DM, it equals 0.9kg of DM per square metre, giving approximately 9 tonnes of DM per hectare. Budget for approximately 80% utilisation, giving you just over 7 tonnes available dry matter. From that, you can calculate the area required to feed your stock numbers on a daily basis and how much fibre to allocate for each grazing break (NB: fibre allowance should be 20% of the daily intake when feeding brassicas).

Ensure there will be adequate water available to stock according to where the field breaks will be – avoid stock walking back to the same water trough if at all possible. Strip feeding and moving the wire daily not only gives animals access to fresh forage but will also improve crop utilisation, so make sure they clear the area as well as possible. 

Animals should be introduced slowly over a week to allow their digestive system time to adapt, but also to encourage the animals to eat the whole plant down to the ground. The protein and energy is mostly in the leaf and upper plant, but there is plenty of fibre in the lower stems so they can make an important contribution to the diet – grazing down to 7 or 8” depending on the crop and if conditions allow. 

If you haven’t put your fibre out, it isn’t too late to go and drop off round bales of straw or silage while conditions allow. You will do a lot less damage than you will, trying to cart in bales in wet conditions in winter. Just drive through the field with a tractor and trailer and push the bales off where needed. A small amount of crop flattened now will amount to nothing compared to the damage caused by potential run-off and a badly rutted field.

Check the stock you intend to outwinter for the appropriate condition score, and consider mineral boluses containing copper, selenium, iodine and vitamin E. Consider also any other health issues, ie worming treatments, that should be completed before the animals are turned away for winter