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ORGANIC PRODUCTION: FORAGES
As initially reported in NODPA News, John and Tammy Stoltzfus of Whitesville, in southwest New York, opened their dairy farm for a Forage Field Day event on Sept 28, 2007 showing a field trial of four different varieties of forage turnips with different varieties and seeding rates of oats. With the assistance and sponsorship of Lakeview Organic Grain, Bejo Seeds, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Allegany County Graziers and Organic Valley, they planted 18 acres of hayland to 25 plots of various seed/crop combinations.
On August 16, 2007, a 18-acre field was planted cross-wise - Forage oats and Keuka oats were planted in one direction at several different rates. The brassica varieties over-seeded in the other direction were 1) Pasja Turnip, 2) Purple Top Turnip, and 3) Fodder Kale. Pasja turnip is a hybrid multi-graze forage brassica from Bejo seeds, designed for multiple grazings, with excellent drought tolerance. It is early maturing, leafier, and higher yielding than many other forage brassicas. Purple top turnip is the common garden turnip that also works well for grazing. Fodder kale is used widely in Europe for grazing.
Conditions were dry at the time of seeding, but the next day they got half an inch of rain and 3 weeks later they got another 4-5 inches of rain. With this extra moisture, the planting really took off! The cows were grazed on the turnips and oats until the end of November. John says that when out in the pasture, the cows would hardly ever lay down – they eagerly ate as much as they could and came into the barn reluctantly. In late November, when the pastures were thoroughly eaten and snow was 4-5 inches deep, he brought them in and fed clover/timothy baleage changing nothing else in the ration. Almost immediately, the cows dropped in milk over 10#/cow!
The mixed oat/turnip forage was tested one week before the field days event in late September. At that point, the forages were running about 30% crude protein and 75-80 Net Energy Lactation (NEL). The Keuka oats alone were running nearly 30% protein at that time! Some of oats and turnips were harvested as baleage at the end of October, after the first hard frost because forage turnips become sweeter then. “Forage turnips can handle 4 nights of 20-degree weather before they actually stop growing”, says John. Normally John would have preferred to reserve more of the crop for grazing, but in 2007, there was such a shortage of forage that they needed to harvest more as baleage for winter feeding.
Forage turnips have a large tall leaf that grows nicely with the oats allowing for a thick healthy stand of both. The feed quality is excellent, allowing dairy farmers to reduce the grain in their winter rations. John and Tammy feel that with the oat/turnip baleage, they have been able to reduce their winter grain feeding to 5-8 # grain (oats & cornmeal), 20# oat/turnip baleage, some poorer quality baleage and dry hay.
Estimated yield per acre was estimated at 11.8 tons of as-fed forage, probably 2.8 tons of dry matter. John says that the volume of plant material doubled between end of September and when he made baleage at the end of October. Additional forage testing will be done on the stored baleage later this winter.
In 2008, John and Tammy intend to plant at least 12 of their planned 50 acres of oats and turnips closer to the barn to make it easier to let the cows out for several hours each day as colder weather comes. They intend to graze the cows well into December and then harvest the rest as baleage. Based on what they’ve learned, they intend to plant 1⁄2 lb per acre of turnips with 3 bushels per acre of oats because the density of the turnips in this year’s crop (at 1 lb per acre) was a little too heavy. Turnips tend to be pretty stalky when planted thick, which could put some stress on the mower. For 2008, John recommends seeding no later than the first week of August to allow for better establishment.