Dugald Hamilton, who runs the mixed cereal, fruit and livestock business with his brother John, put 800 North Country Cheviot hogs onto the 14-acre field at the turn of the year and, from the growth rates and uniformity of the crop, he is expecting yields well north of 50 tonnes per acre – a very good crop, he admits, for the farm where swedes are grown annually as part of a cereal, grass and roots rotation.
“The cold weather is looming and we’re glad of this year’s high energy feed supply,” says Dugald, who is no newcomer to growing and feeding swedes.
This year Dugald has tried a new variety – Lomond. “I saw a crop on a neighbouring farm that looked really well and they were very pleased with it so I got 14 acres of graded and treated seed from Nickerson’s Nick Wallace.”
By early November Dugald says the crop ‘was really looking the part’. “All the plants were touching with no blanks across the field. The crop was so consistent – in fact the most uniform crop of swedes we’ve ever grown and very clean. Variety has certainly played a part but good weather at sowing time and a warm spell at the end of May helped the crop establish.
“We strip graze the swedes as this allows us to manage the waste and the nets are normally shifted each week. They’re eating the swedes right down this year with very little waste and this is exactly what we are looking for.”
Dugale measures the real benefit of a crop in its ability to feed and grow the hogs well. They will be finished mid March and then sold.
“With these high yields we’ll expect to add three weeks onto their grazing time. We normally graze swedes from Christmas until the end of February. This year there should be plenty of feed for them until mid-March. This reduces our feed cost and improves feed efficiency.”
The swede seed is drilled into ploughed and worked land following cereals in early May – a bit later than many but he finds that this timing reduces the risk of flea beetle. He uses a 6-row drill with graded seed and plants 10 rows of swedes, six inches deep, then two rows of Caladonian kale to form natural breaks. They then apply a post-emergence spray.
“We find this system of drilling easy to manage and we have more control which has its advantages for weed control. Both crops have deep roots so they are good for the soil.”
Swedes are included as part of the seven-year rotation at Bruceton Farm. “It may seem old-fashioned to follow a rotation like this and include roots, but I am convinced it maintains the organic matter and fertility of the soil and helps to keep fertiliser costs down. We grow good crops and many disease problems like blackgrass are unknown here. So swedes offer us a few benefits and I think, from this year’s experience, it’s worth a look at better varieties when it comes to feed value.”