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Brassicas can augment forage supply

Written by Saige

Sometimes non-traditional crops for livestock can augment forage supplies or stretch production on a piece of land. Brassicas are a good example, according to John Snider, who lives in Oregon and works for PGG Seed, a company based in New Zealand. 

PPG Seed, according to Snider, is ahead of the game in producing cultivars that are easier to manage for grazing to add variety to livestock forage options. 

About brassicas

Brassicas are a large family of plants more commonly known as the mustard family, which includes turnips, radishes, rutabaga, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, rapeseed, canola and many other plants and vegetables. 

They have many purposes, including some that have been selected and adapted to create varieties for livestock forage. For instance there are now some new varieties of turnip that work much better than the traditional ones and can be planted earlier in the spring.

“There are some taproot varieties today that produce a lot of biomass above ground, which can be grazed two, three or even four times during the year instead of just once,” Snider explains. 

Challenges 

Snider continues, “A traditional turnip grows best in a cool environment and requires 90 to 100 days of good growing weather to get maximum productivity.”

Additionally, traditional turnips require specific planting windows for optimal growth. While the planting timeframes work well in traditional English farming systems in areas with mild summers, in hot, dry environments, the plants don’t thrive.

“In hotter, drier environments farmers need plants that are more adapted to drought. There are several varieties that are easier to grow than the traditional purple top turnip, which does a great job of providing extra feed for cattle in the fall and winter and become grazable earlier – at 40 to 60 days rather than 90 to 100 days,” says Snider.

These can be very useful in climates that utilize warm season grasses like Sudan, sorghum and millet. 

Adaptations

“There are varieties of brassicas adapted to summer weather that can be planted early in the spring,” Snider says. 

The result is two windows of opportunity for planting brassicas – in the spring or in the early fall. 

“We’ve planted forage brassicas, leaf turnips and forage rape in December in California and Arizona. They grow slowly for a while and then by March are large enough to be grazed,” he says. 

In a colder climate, producers would more likely plant in the spring or early summer and graze them through the growing season and still have the turnip bulbs for winter feed.

What to plant

“We now have new kinds of forage brassicas that can be grazed multiple times. They can flower and, after they are grazed, will regrow as a vegetative rather than reproductive phase.” 

If producers graze them off before they actually go to seed, they will regrow and produce another stand of forage. Snider encourages farmers and ranchers to choose a variety that fits their farm or ranch and the time frame when they need to have something available to graze.

He says that choice depends on the timing of planting and timing of grazing in the climate where the operation is located. 

Snider also notes forage brassicas require about the same amount of moisture to start as a new crop of alfalfa, so timely rains or irrigation are necessary. 

Turnips

“Turnips, for instance, require a lot of moisture because they have a big bulb,” Snider says. “A turnip requires quite a bit of moisture to be a decent crop, whereas some cultivars need less.”

“They all need moisture to germinate and become established, but some of the grazing varieties then get by with as little as six inches of in-crop moisture as they are growing,” he adds.

“There are generic varieties of purple-top turnips and also some proprietary certified varieties produced from foundation seed that have specific purposes for specific climates,” Snider continues

He uses Hunter Forage Brassica and Winfred Forage Brassica as examples. Hunter Forage Brassica is a leaf turnip that is actually a cross between turnip and Chinese cabbage. Winfred Forage Brassica is a cross between kale and turnip. Each variety has different water requirements and hardiness levels, which make them better in certain climates.

“Graza is the only certified forage radish available, created by crossing different types of radish from various parts of the world. It grows very fast and can be grazable in 40 days at the proper time of year,” says Snider. 

All of these new varieties produce more leaf mass and less bulb than a traditional turnip.

Generic varieties

“Today there are many generic radishes and turnips used in cover crops,” Snider says. “There is growing popularity across the country for utilizing a cocktail mix of plants in cover crops for soil health.”

He continues, “These cover crops are also a great cash crop when used for grazing. We only get that added value, however, from using grazing varieties and not just generic radishes or turnips because those all become quickly less usable after they flower. It makes sense to use something that works better for grazing.”

Snider emphasizes, “Some plants are bred to grow seed, and some are bred to grow leaves or roots.”

Just as all wheat, corn and alfalfa aren’t the same, turnips aren’t the same, either, Snider adds. 

“We wouldn’t plant spring wheat we need to plant winter wheat, for instance. We wouldn’t plant corn in mid-December in the northern hemisphere or plant traditional corn in a climate where we need a fast-maturing variety to make ears before frost. Brassicas are a huge family, and we need to know which one might work best in our situation,” says Snider.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..