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Field and Crop Choice for Fodder Crops in 2024

23 February 2024

This article is produced as a part of the FAS Crops & Soils Bulletin. Subscribe now to receive the full report in your inbox monthly.

Forage crops offer an excellent solution to filling the forage gap in the autumn and winter months when grass growth slows down. In addition, forage crops are an excellent break crop, increase organic matter and allow for a return of the grazed nutrients to the soil.  Many forage crops can offer a high dry matter yield, making them very cost effective to grow. 

Field Choice

  • Soil type – capable to create a fine seed bed for sowing, light to medium free draining soil 
  • Shelter –for the animals to shelter in the winter 
  • When land is available e.g. after silage or spring 
  • Is there a field that is currently performing poorly that would benefit from a break crop? 
  • Have available water for grazing animals, ensuring there are no environmental limitations such as poaching of water courses, etc.  

Crop Choice

There are various forage crops available, when looking at which crop to grow, there are certain attributes to think about, 

  1. The length of time it takes to grow before it can be utilised 

    CropSownUtilised after sowingComments
    Stubble TurnipsApril – September8-13 weeksCan grow as a catch crop (summer and autumn). Less winter hardy.
    Forage RapeMay – August10-12 weeksQuick growing, not cold tolerant.
    Hybrid BrassicaApril – August10-12 weeksSummer, autumn and winter grazing.
    KaleApril – May22-30 weeksCold tolerant.
    SwedesApril – June24-31 weeksHigh dry matter and cold tolerant.
    Fodder BeetLate March – Late April/early May25-30 weeksVery high yielding dry matter and energy and cold tolerant.
  2. How winter hardy the crop is
    Suited to summer grazingSuited to winter grazing
    Stubble turnips

    Forage rape



    Fodder Beet
  3. The class of livestock the crop will be aimed at

    DM yield (t/ha)SheepCattle
    Stubble Turnips4√√√
    Forage Rape3.5√√√
    Hybrid Brassica3.5√√√
    Fodder Beet17√√√√√√

    *some of the above require careful management when being utilised 

  4. How the crop would fit in with your rotation Brassicas should only be grown 1 year in every 4/5 in a crop rotation to limit diseases such as club root.  The majority of fodder crops belong in the brassica family, with the exception of fodder beet, which belongs in the beet family.  If crops such as oil seed rape are in the farm rotation, careful planning will be required here. 

Kirsten Williams, Senior Sheep and Beef Consultant, SAC Consulting

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