A post-harvest catch crop can be a win-win for sheep producers. Crops such as stubble turnips, forage rape, forage rye and brassica mixtures produce high quality autumn and winter feed cost-effectively.
“Stubble turnips, forage rape and rape/ kale hybrids can be sown up until the end of August,” says Limagrain UK’s Martin Titley. “They’re quick to establish and some varieties can be ready for grazing within 12 weeks of sowing. Hardier varieties can be left for grazing over winter.
Rape/kale hybrids like Interval is an example of a fast-growing catch crop. “In our recent trials, it has produced yields 16% above the control. It’s an ideal crop for finishing lambs or for maintenance from late summer onwards,” he adds.
Limagrain quotes growing costs of forage rape of £408 per hectare with dry matter yields between 3.5 and four tonnes per hectare.
Stubble turnips cost £305 per hectare to grow with dry matter yields per hectare between 4 and 5.5 tonnes. “This crop makes an ideal feed in the autumn with hardy, mildew resistant varieties ideally suited to grazing through winter.”
And he suggests looking at brassica mixtures too. “Sheep producers can make things easier with these mixtures. Autumn Keep and Meat Maker, for example combine a high protein forage rape with kale, blended with a high-energy stubble turnip to provide a balanced autumn and winter keep with minimal effort. Advantages such as disease resistance, winter hardiness and early establishment have been ‘built-in’ too.
“And it is worth spending some time looking at the varieties on offer. Our annual trials compare yield and disease resistance of varieties of catch crops and the results can highlight significant differences.
“For example, there is a 20% yield difference between some stubble turnip varieties and this equates to more than one tonne of dry matter per hectare. Samson is one of the top yielding varieties in the trial with a dry matter yield of 5.76 tonnes per hectare and, as a bonus, this variety is preferentially grazed by sheep in grazing trials.”
A catch crop will also mop up any available nutrients, returning them to the soil via the manure of grazing animals. This helps to improve soil organic matter and structure.
“Catch crops bring many advantages to the mixed farm in providing a valuable feed and added benefits to the soil. They make an excellent break crop and a perfect entry back to a grass reseed in the spring.”