Winter/spring grazing of Brassicas and winter rye

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,858.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Carole Soule
Learning Networks Foundation

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: rye
  • Vegetables: turnips
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal summary:

    Traditionally cattle in New England graze only 4-6 months of the year. The other 6-8 months they are fed corn, silage, hay silage and often grains. With volatile fuel prices and environmental concerns about fossil fuel use, extended grazing is an increasingly desirable alternative to mechanical harvest of forages. Farmers would benefit if the grazing season for cattle were extended 2 months.

    This project will demonstrate that it is possible to increase the grazing season for beef cattle by providing grazing crops that have a high energy density. We will demonstrate that extending the grazing season with brassicas and rye will reduce cost per lb of weight gain for beef cattle. By using Mob Intensive Grazing (MIG) practices we will demonstrate that is possible to economically provide brassicas and winter rye by using the churning action of the cattle's hooves to cultivate the soil eliminating the use of tractors and fossil fuel to prepare soil for planting. Plowing and harrowing will not be necessary to provide seasonal high-energy forage that will extend the grazing season by 2 months and increase farm profits while still providing improved cattle weight gain.

    Outreach will be through on-farm workshops during the study, and the results of this project will be summarized in a bulletin that will be posted on the Cooperative Extension web site and will be handed out at the NH Farm and Forest Expo held in February. We will conduct a workshop session be held at NH Farm and Forest to present our results and will promote the work with a poster.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The physical trial period will be for 1 ½ years with reporting completed by the end of the 2nd year. Planning will start in March 2012. In May we will test the soil. We will purchase turnips seeds as turnip leaves offer the highest concentration of protein and yield of any leaf. Turnips require good soil drainage and a soil pH should be in the range of 5.5 to 6.8 Based on soil test results we will apply appropriate levels of lime and fertilizers. We will hire Carl Bartlett who has his MSTAS in Professional Animal Sciences with a BS from Cornell and an MS from the University of New Hampshire and has been an animal nutrition consultant for 28 years to identify the best brassica turnips and winter ryes to raise in the 5 acre section of our 10 acre field.

    In May, 2012 a local farmer from The Vegetable Ranch. Larry Fletcher, will do a one-time plowing of this former hay field to turn over the soil and fertilize as necessary. This will begin the process of reducing re-growth of grass. Approximately three weeks after plowing Larry will harrow the area. He will harrow twice more, once in June and once in July to help reduce grass re-growth. Plowing and harrowing is a one-time process to expedite the conversion of this field from grass to be brassica ready. In subsequent years and later in the season we will rely on the churning hoof action facilitated by Mob Intensive (MIG) grazing practices to cultivate the soil. In future plantings cattle hoof action will replace the plow and harrow.

    The soil should be ready for planting turnips in late July. We will broadcast seed the turnips followed by light harrowing. Once Carl Bartlett and our technical adviser, Dot Perkins, have determined the turnips are ready to graze (late September) we will setup small rotational grazing paddocks. Five yearling cattle will be provided for the the experiment and a similar yearling group of 5 cattle will be used as the “control group”. Both groups will be weighed prior to the start of the project. Yearlings will be selected because they have not yet achieved their mature weight so weight gain is expected.

    We will graze 5 cattle in each small paddock for 2 hours then move them to a non-turnip paddock so that they can forage on grass or dry matter the rest of the day. In order to reduce the risk of cattle illness we will gradually increase access to the brassica each day as the cattle get used to the turnip forage. Paddock size will be adjusted as grazing patterns are observed. Water will be available at all times in each MIG paddock.

    Illness is a concern when grazing cattle on new forages. The Kansas Rural Center Management Guide ( indicates that there are four diseases are occasionally associated with cattle grazing some brassicas. 1 Polioencephalomalacia 2. Pulmonary emphysema 3. Bloat. 4. Hemolytic anemia. Grazing management can be used to prevent the above diseases in cattle Ohio State University Extension Department of Horticulture and Crop Science 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1044 also emphasizes the importance of using rotational grazing practices with brassicas.

    We will provide a detailed review of the plowing, harrowing, planting, and grazing of the brassicas as well as the best grazing practices for cattle. We will track and record the health, grazing patterns, likeability of forage brassica and weight gain of the "control" group of cattle as well as the brassica group of cattle. Both groups, the control group and the brassica grazing group will be weighed before and after this project to determine the if brassica grazing improves weight gain.

    MIG grazing of the brassicas in the Fall and Rye in the Spring will also result in re-cultivation of the pasture. This area will be broadcast seeded with winter rye in late Oct/early November, 2012. The winter rye will be available for forage in late May 2013. Once again we will Mob Graze the area. Once again the cattle hooves will cultivate the soil preparing the soil for replanting of turnips in July.

    In July 2013 we will broadcast turnip seed in the area and repeat the grazing processes of 2012.

    In this way the cattle will "cultivate" the soil for the planting of turnips which cattle will MIG graze and "self cultivate" the soil. This will be followed by planting winter rye in November which will be MIG grazed and "self cultivated" by the cattle the following June. Followed once again by planting and MIG grazing turnips for fall forage.

    The planting and grazing cycle will be self maintaining, no tilling or plowing costs will be incurred (the cattle will “till” the soil by executing MIG practices), soil quality will be improved, the grazing season will be extended providing a 26% increase in farm income.

    We will provide two workshops to demonstrate the cost savings to other farmers. Processes for reproducing the project will be detailed in a handbook which will be available both in hard copy and on-line. These workshops will be promoted by the NH Conservation Commission, the Audubon Society and posted in the NH Market Bulletin. The NH Communicator published by The New Hampshire Farm Bureau will also be used to announce and promote these workshops.

    There are many farmers who would like to extent their grazing season. By demonstrating that a small farm, like Miles Smith Farm, can extend the grazing season and that our cattle will increase weight gain pastured on brassicas and winter rye we will inspire other farmers to embrace this activity and help the environment as well.

    The results of this project will be summarized in a bulletin that will be posted on the Cooperative Extension web site and will be handed out at the NH Farm and Forest Expo held in February. We will conduct a workshop session be held at NH Farm and Forest to present our results and will promote the work with a poster. We will make available free summaries of our research to Expo attendees. Our technical adviser, Dorothy Perkins, UNH Extension Service has agreed to promote this workshop and help disseminate the information to extension staff to make them aware that this material is available via the New Hampshire Extensive Service.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.