Cattle Grazing: Turnips and Other Root Crops for Livestock

Using turnips and other root crops for cattle grazing is an old concept that’s making a comeback in rural North America.

| January/February 2016

Historically, man and beast alike were great beneficiaries of the turnip plant. Heck, before the 20th century, beef producers relied heavily on a steady stream of crops to sustain their herds through winter, even in a specific order of turnips, rutabagas, and fodder beets (mangels) and carrots, based on crop storage qualities.

But if you think turnips are simply something European farmers commonly grazed and fed hundreds of years ago, think again.

In an era of high feed prices and widespread, persistent drought, new turnip varieties – such as Pasja – are giving beef producers an opportunity to extend grazing options and seasons. Just as important, turnips can help improve pasture quality.

Way out west

Chris Benedict, regional specialist at Washington State University Extension, directed a two-year study of root-crop production in 2011 and 2012 to help farmers in western Washington make decisions about using root crops such as turnips in livestock operations.

“Pasja turnip produces massive amounts of biomass per acre,” Benedict says. “The plant has very little root system in comparison to other varieties, such as Purple Top. For a grower, that means the plant puts a lot of energy into the forage. Pasja also has potential for multiple harvests since it can be grazed or cut within 30 to 40 days after planting, and then allowed to regrow.”

Beginning in the 1600s, turnips were grown extensively in England for winter feeding of sheep and cattle, as a pasture crop for pigs, and winter fodder for sows.

1/18/2016 10:31:37 AM

Assuming these seeds form a turnip. Do we leave them in the ground or harvest them before they rot?

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