Catchment Sensitive Farming: Practical Tips

Practical Tip: Out-wintered cattle on brassicas

Well-managed brassica crops can provide farmers with a viable alternative for wintering cattle. The crop can be established either by conventional cultivation or by direct drilling. Direct drilling may reduce crop yield but may provide a better surface that may reduce poaching. Care should be taken when selecting fields for out wintering. Fields should be selected that have a minimal gradient, a free draining soil and some shelter. Shelter is required for animal welfare but should not restrict airflow across the field, which will help soils to dry out. Areas selected should also not allow free access to watercourses. Good management and stock control is essential.

Unsuitable out-wintering site for dairy cows
Source: Gavin Hill, SAC

Suitable free-draining field sites for out-wintering sites for cattle
Source: Gavin Hill, SAC

Strip grazing is a necessity. This is best achieved with an electric fence and this should be moved every day and in very wet conditions twice a day to minimise poaching. Strip grazing is the optimum way to utilise the crop as well as providing the animals a "clean" area every day.

Brassicas are low in fibre and therefore providing supplementary fibre is advised. This can be hay, silage or straw and bales should be placed in the field during summer/autumn but before winter and feed in situ. To avoid poaching and soil damage and channeling no machinery should enter the field during winter. Placing the bales in a spaced line at right angles to the planned feed face is advisable. As the electric fence is moved the bale can be offered either by using the electric fence as a feed barrier or by moving a ring feeder over the bale. The ring feeder should be manually moved to the bale. This means that any concentration of animals is only for short time on one area.  

Key Points for out wintering on brassicas:

  • Select free draining fields with some shelter
  • Do not select fields with steep gradients
  • Wherever possible, use a location away from watercourses or ensure there is a grass buffer strip between the brassica field and the watercourse
  • Offer a fresh area for grazing everyday
  • Position all additional forage during summer /autumn
  • Preferably use reduced tillage techniques for establishment
  • Do not allow any machinery in the filed during winter
  • Provide a grass run-back area where it is dry for the cattle to lie down /shelter.
  • Supplementary minerals should always be available.
  • Start grazing at the top of any slope. The remaining crop will help to intercept any run-off

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