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Topics : Species and Forage Variety Trials : Species Fact Sheets : Brassica

Species: Brassica

Additional brassica information via the Forage Information System (FIS)


Brassica Harvest Management

Brassicas can be harvested for greenchop or silage but are most frequently grazed. Grazing management is important to optimize the true potential of these crops. Strip grazing small areas of brassica at a time provides the most efficient utilization. Grazing large areas increases trampling and waste of the available forage. Rape is more easily managed for multiple grazings than are the other brassica species. Approximately 6 to 10 inches of stubble should remain after grazing rape to promote rapid regrowth. Regrowth may be grazed in as few as 4 weeks after the first grazing. Graze rape close to ground level during the final grazing.

When turnips are grazed twice, only the tops should be grazed during the first grazing. Turnip regrowth is initiated at the top of the root, so this part of the plant should not be removed until the second and final grazing when the whole plant can be consumed. Like rape, regrowth of turnips can be sufficient to graze within 4 weeks of the first grazing.

Yield and Nutritional Value

Brassica dry matter yield will depend on the production potential of the soil and environment, and the brassica species. Average yields in Pennsylvania have been 3.1 tons of dry matter per acre at 90 days after planting. Slower maturing kale and swede average over 4 tons per acre at 120 days after planting. For a grazing situation, an average carrying capacity of a good brassica stand would be approximately 1550 ewe- or 160 cow-grazing days per acre.

Dry matter digestibility generally exceeds 90 percent for all plant parts except kale stems at maturity. By comparision, dairy quality alfalfa hay is approximately 70 percent digestible. With adequate fertility, brassicas can produce equivalent amounts of digestible energy per acre as corn yielding 115 bushel per acre. Unlike perennial forage crops, the dry matter digestibility of brassicas does not decrease markedly with increasing plant maturity. This characteristic makes them ideal for stockpiling. Ruminant diets should not contain more than 75 percent brassica forage because the fiber content of brassica crops is too low for maintenance of proper rumen activity. With their high digestibility and low fiber content, brassicas should actually be considered as "concentrates" rather than "forage" in nutritional planning for livestock. Crude protein concentration of brassicas range from 8 to 10 percent in turnip roots to 30 percent in rape leaves.

Feeding Concerns

Brassica crops can cause health disorders in grazing animals if not managed properly. The main disorders are bloat, atypical pneumonia, nitrate poisoning, hemolytic anemia (mainly with kale), hypothyroidism, and polioencephalomalacia. Researchers have discovered that these disorders can be avoided by adhering to a couple management rules:

1. Introduce grazing animals to brassica pastures slowly. Avoid abrupt changes from dried-up summer pastures to lush brassica pastures. Don't turn hungry animals that are not adapted to brassicas into a brassica pasture.

2. Brassicas should not constitute more than 75 percent of the animal's diet. Supplement with dry hay if continually grazing brassicas or allow grazing animals access to grass pastures while grazing brassicas. No-till establishment into existing sod will reduce the risk of these disorders because of grass in the brassica pasture.