Winter/spring grazing of Brassicas and winter rye

2012 Annual Report for FNE12-767

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
Miles Smith Farm

Winter/spring grazing of Brassicas and winter rye



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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

What we did

Seeds used:
Appin Turnips which are a purple top that will regrow after they are grazed if they are not grazed too short
Topper, a hybrid tunip
DUO Festulolium which is like a ryegrass with the palatability of perennial tetraploid rygrass with the extra persistence and summer productivity of meadow fescue
T.A.R.A. Is a forage mix of timothy, alsike, clover, red clover, alfalfa)

This is what we did:
1. Divided the 6 acres of the 10 acre field into 2 acre sections.
2. Plowed and harrowed two of the 2 acre sections.
Based on soil test results we applied “Cheap Cheap organic fertilizer to provide nitrogen to the two plowed sections
Applied no fertilizer to the unplowed 2 acre section
Seeded Section 1 (plowed section) with Brassicas and DUO a pasture mix and were dragged with a chain after planting
Seeded Section 2 (plowed section) with T.A.R.A. (grass fescue) and dragged with a chain after planting.
3. Used MIG practices in the 3rd of the 2 acre sections. Used the cattle hoofs (unsuccessfully) to churn the soil
Seeded two types of turnips in the unplowed “hoof cultivated” section with out DUO.
4. Started rotational grazing on October 1, 2012 and completed it on November 20, 2012
5. The 2nd paddock produced an abundance of Lambs Quarters. We had planted T.A.R.A – a pasture mix which could not compete with the Lambs Quarters. We mowed that section which was mostly Lambs Quarters and did not graze cattle there. We only grazed in Section 1 and 3 and did not use Section 2 for this project.
6. We weighed a control group of similar animals which we kept on pasture during this entire experiment.

In subsequent years and later in the season we will rely on the churning hoof action facilitated by Mob Intensive Rotational grazing practices to cultivate the soil. In future plantings cattle hoof action will replace the plow and harrow reducing costs.


What we expected:
Cattle gain weight faster on brassicas/rye then on hay. According to the Ohio State University Extension Service average daily weight gain for cattle fed only hay averages 1.23 lbs/day. Average daily weight gain on winter rye is 2.43 lbs/day. Seed and planting costs for winter rye/brassicas (2 plantings) is $1,000 x 60 grazing days = $1.37 per pound weight gain per day for rye/brassicas. Feeding hay at $2.28 = $1.23 per pound weight gain per day. The increased weight gain on brassica/rye forage traslates to a per pound weight gain savings of .48/lb or a 26% savings. This means that farmers will save .26 cents on every feed dollar spent when they pasture feed brassicas and rye. Each $10,000 spent on grazing brassicas/rye vs hay will produce a $2,600 savings.

What we found:
Cattle do gain weight faster on brassicas/rye than on hay or grass.

In Year 1 we had an average weight gain of 2.47 lbs per day on the brassica fed cattle over a .43lbs per day weight gain for our cattle on straight pasture (not rotationally grazed). This gave a 2.23% improvement over feeding hay over a negative 25% LOSS over feeding on just pasture. In Year 2, without fertilizer costs, we expect a 75% improvement feeding brassicas over feeding hay and a 100% improvement over feeding just pasture.

Projected Year 1 Actual Year 2 Projected
Seeding+Fertilizer $1,135.20 $2,283.00 $686.00
Number of Animals 5 10 10
One animal $227.04 $228.30 $68.60
Animal Grazing Days 60 51 60
Cost/day $3.78 $4.48 $1.14
Average Weight Gain Per Day On Brassicas/Rye 2.43 2.47 2.47
Cost per day/lb $1.56 $1.81 $0.46

Hay Feeding $2.28 $2.28 $2.28
Average Weight Gain per day on Hay 1.23 1.23 1.23
Cost per day/lb $1.85 $1.85 $1.85

Savings per lb $0.30 $0.04 $1.39
Percentage of Savings 15.99% 2.23% 75.03%

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We planted the brassicas at the right time but planted a variety, Topper, that created large “bulbs” too large for the cattle to eat easily. We also planted Appin turnips that had a smaller and more easily eaten bulb. They ate more or all of the Appin turnip bulbs.

Also we planted the T.A.R.A at the wrong time of the year which is why the Lambs Quarters took over. After we mowed the Lambs Quarters, a rich combination of grass – maybe the T.A.R.A started to grow. We did graze this section and hope that in the spring it will provide a nice paddock of stockpiled forage.

We improved the environment by not plowing one of the three paddocks. Instead we used the hoof action of the cattle to do the plowing. While this helped the environment, it did not help the brassicas. We only yielded about 25 turnip plants on the whole 2 acre piece. Not plowing also helped conserve resources but was not beneficial to the brassicas we planted.

1. The results of this project taught us lessons about planting and why planting at the correct time of year is important. Grazing is more than knowing what makes cattle fat, it is also necessary to know about the seeds you are planting and when the best growing time is.
2. Not much has changed on our farm since the project started. But given the results of this grazing project we are going to evaluate all of our 200+ acres of off-farm pasture to determine which are best suited to grazing brassicas
3. We had several volunteers who helped with moving the cattle between grazing paddocks. Dot Perkins, our technical adviser, was always present and helpful in keeping the project moving. She helped research about the Lambs Quarters and with the determination that we should not feed them and that we should mow them instead.

Pasture Diagram:
Section 1: plowed
Section 2: plowed

Section 3: grazed/trampled


Dorothy Perkins
UNH Cooperative Extension
315 Daniel Webster Hwy
Boscawen, NH 03303
Office Phone: 6037962151
Bruce Dawson
Project Coordinator
Miles Smith Farm
56 Whitehouse Rd
Loudon, NH 03307
Office Phone: 6034947998