Limagrain UK’s bounce back brassica Skyfall is the perfect answer to ensuring that a highly nutritious leafy forage crop is available for grazing sheep and cattle in summer through to autumn.
Sown between May and July, it will be ready for grazing in 12 to 14 weeks. And after the first round of grazing, it can be closed up for six to eight weeks while it grows back, ready for grazing again later in the season.
“Its deep narrow roots allow it to thrive in drier soils through summer,” says Limagrain’s forage crop manager John Spence. “This, and the crop’s exceptional vigour supports regrowth and a second grazing crop. In field trials Skyfall produced between 30 and 35 tonnes/ha of a palatable soft-leaved forage where the crop was sown in July.”
Skyfall is an ideal break crop too before a grass reseed or in a mixed arable rotation.
Sheep farmer and contractor Tim Cains was an early pioneer, sowing a crop in the first season that Limagrain introduced it. He used it for his lambs, and they devoured it first time round, and second time round six weeks later when he finished them off the crop at 40kg liveweight.
Tim Cains from Bridgnorth runs a 500-ewe flock – 300 Welsh mules and 200 Scottish Blackface hill ewes. Lambing starts in late March and lambs are reared for finishing from September.
“This puts a lot of pressure on our grassland,” says Tim, who combines his sheep enterprise with a mobile sheep dipping business.
“We lamb the mules indoors then turn the ewes and lambs out onto grassland. We’ve 130 acres of grassland for the sheep, and finish around 500 lambs, keeping 120 ewe lambs for replacements.”
Lambs are weaned from the second week of July, and in 2020 Tim moved them straight on to the bounce back brassica Skyfall. The crop’s proven track record of great growth potential through summer and the ability to ‘bounce back’ appealed to him.
“We wanted to ease the pressure on the grazed grass and reduce reliance on bought in feed, should the grass be in short supply later in summer,” says Tim.
“We got 24kg of seed – treated with Start-Up to promote germination and even establishment, for our 13-acre ley (5.3ha). I drilled it in early May and by the time I moved 300 lambs on to it at the end of July the leaves were so big we couldn’t see the lambs. There’s not much bulb, but plenty of leaf.”
And it went down a treat. “The lambs loved it, and devoured the crop in three weeks, grazing it right down. We moved them off in mid-August onto a red clover sward and supplemented their diet with some creep.
“I then waited to see if the crop did what it was meant to do and re-grow enough for another grazing. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical. We’d only had three weeks grazing off the crop so far, so its value depended on a re-growth. We needed another three weeks of grazing to make it viable; to justify growing it,” he adds.
It wasn’t a very long wait before Tim knew this crop ‘had legs’. Within 10 days, regrowth was about 30cm. “I took photos of the crop in mid-August as I couldn’t believe the speed of the regrowth. It was exceptional.”
About 270 lambs were moved back on to the Skyfall at the beginning of October and Tim pulled finished lambs off the crop at around 40kg liveweight. “They sold well – the market was fairly strong last autumn. All bar 56 of the smallest lambs were sold in October; something we’ve never achieved in the past. We’re normally aiming for the Christmas market, and don’t really ‘push’ the lambs. We didn’t have to with this crop, but we got to finishing weights much earlier.
He admits that this sort of bounce back brassica is a new one for him. “But it worked really well. Lambs reached finishing weights more cost-effectively, and it gave the grass a break too.
“And I gave the crop a fair test as we used some fairly unproductive permanent pasture to grow it. It wasn’t very fertile ground and maybe not the best choice to try out this new crop, but it performed far better than I expected.”
Plans were to follow the brassica with a herbal ley in autumn but this was put back to spring 2021 to make the most of the regrowth. “I’d still got 56 lambs grazing it in late November.
“Maximising home-grown forage production is crucial and fine tuning the cropping rotation will improve output,” says Tim. “We grow 20 acres of turnips for over-wintering ewes and high energy fodder beet for later finishing lambs.
“We also need to up the grassland management but establishing new leys is challenging here as the stone in the soil makes ploughing very difficult. So being able to burn off grass and drill a brassica in directly then burning off again before planting a herbal ley saves time and machinery. It also helps clean the old grasses out ready for the new ley.
“A rotation of brassica, grass and roots seems to work well for us. And the regrowth track record of this brassica means I will aim to sow it earlier this year – I might get even more from it through summer and autumn!”
crop facts: SKYFALL BOUNCE BACK BRASSICA
High protein forage
Fast-growing – 10 to 12 weeks from sowing to grazing
Leafy and palatable grazing crop for cattle and sheep
Produces between 30 and 35 tonnes/ha
Deep rooting so withstands dry conditions
Regrowth potential – bounces back after first round of grazing and provides a second crop.
Break crop – short-circuits weeds and pest problems in grassland