Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Master Grazer Coordinator
804 W.P. Garrigus Building
University of Kentucky
Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952
With an annual yield of two to four tons of dry matter per acre, turnips are a high quality forage crop that can be grazed during the fall and into the early winter months. There are several types of turnips available for planting. The turnip type is generally determined by the bulb yield compared to the leaf yield. Turnips are high in protein, and are highly digestible with a digestibility of 85%. The tops of turnips have a moisture content of 79 to 88%, which may limit dry matter intake for high-producing classes of grazing livestock, such as lactating dairy cows or stocker calves.
Recommended planting dates are from August 1st to September 1st for fall grazing. Grazing can begin 60 days after seeding. New forage varieties have shown improved regrowth after grazing, which can allow for a second grazing. For the first rotation, begin grazing at 16 to 18 inches of forage height, and remove animals at 6 to 8 inches to allow for forage regrowth. If rotated properly, grazing varieties can be grazed up to 4 times, depending on the weather. Once temperatures reach 25º F, plant growth is inhibited. For the last grazing post-freezing, the entire plant can be consumed. Animals will eat the bulbs as well.
Being such a highly-digestible forage crop, it is important to manage turnips as if you were feeding a high-grain ration. Limit access to turnips when planted in a pure stand and offer long stem hay to maintain proper rumen function. This also can be achieved by seeding turnips in combination with small grains such as oats, rye, wheat, triticale or barley. As with all forages grazed, dairy cows should be removed two to three hours before milking to reduce off flavors in milk and milk haulers rejecting bulk tank loads of milk. Also, brassicas are characterized as nitrate accumulators. It is advised to test nitrate levels in turnips before turning out livestock for grazing. Brassicas such as turnips require an acclimation period and cattle may avoid them for the first 5 to 7 days. Provide a small strip of turnips and access for a few hours a day during this acclimation period.
Seed at a rate of 5 lbs/acre if seeding turnips alone or at 2 to 3 lbs/acre if seeding with small grains. A conventionally tilled seed bed works extremely well but turnips can also be planted using a no-till drill. Be sure to adjust the planter to seed at a depth of ¼ inch. Unfortunately, seeds are often drilled too deep which is the main cause of establishment failure. If seeding with small grains, turnips still need to be seeded shallow at ¼ inch, while small grains are seeded deeper at 1 to 2 inches. Seed the oats and then reset the drill to plant the turnips. Weed control is essential as weed pressure will greatly reduce stand establishment and productivity.
In summary, turnips can be planted in the late summer for fall and early winter grazing. They grow rapidly and produce high-quality forage. They are relatively inexpensive to establish and can extend the grazing season, thus reducing the number of days hay or other forages must be fed.