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A few more alternative feed sources

Jeff Caldwell 09/10/2012 @ 2:50pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

The drought's created a lot of talk in the last few weeks about alternatives to "normal" forage feed sources. Now, add to that conversation the possibility to raise feed from brassica crops like canola, turnips, kale and rutabagas.

That's what one specialist in southeastern Kansas recommends for farmers in situations where they've got fallow fields and a need for feed down the road.

"Brassicas can be used on crop fields that would otherwise remain fallow and they also can be mixed with small grain cereals for a forage blend. In situations that make sense to use brassicas for forage, nitrogen rates of 50 pounds per acre will boost fall forage production,” says Kansas State University Extension crops and soils specialist Doug Shoup. “Brassicas are high nitrate accumulators, so if excess nitrogen is in the soil, producers should not add more. It is important to use a soil test for this reason.”

That forage blend is also important, Shoup adds, to help avoid problems associated with too much moisture and nitrogen in the brassica crop. "When grazing brassicas, cattle will often become loose and require some roughage in their diet," according to a university report. "Dry hay should always be available to cattle grazing on brassicas and should be about one-quarter of the ration."

Now's the time to plant these crops if you're going to get a good stand started and be able to do any grazing during the typical timeframe, between mid-October and the end of December. If you do get in a good stand, chances are you can sustain a stocking rate not too far below a normal grass pasture rate, says Kansas State University Extension canola breeder Mike Stamm.

"The top growth of canola in the fall is highly palatable for grazing. Stocking rates have been as high as 1,000 pounds of animal per acre if ample forage is available. The quality is excellent," Stamm says. "Protein levels are normally more than 20%. The relative feed value can be 400, compared to about 200 for rye/wheat forage. A typical average daily gain is about 2 pounds per head per day, but some ranchers have recorded over 3 pounds per day."

Though it's too late to make it work for this fall/winter, turnips are another good option for an alternative feed source. They're typically best planted by early August at the latest and, Stamm says, can support a stocking rate of up to 2,000 pounds/acre.

"Turnip top growth can be grazed from late September until the first killing frost with temperatures below 18 degrees. Bulbs can be utilized into January as long as they remain intact. Turnip forage quality is very high, ranging from 17% to 22% protein while the protein in the bulb will usually exceed 8% protein," according to a university report. "Cattle stocking rates for turnips are often high, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of beef per acre, depending on available forage. Turnips can be blended with a small grain cereal crop. Cattle will initially seek out the cereal before utilizing the turnip tops until later in the season when the brassica forage becomes more desirable."

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