Introduction to the challenge addressed

With rising feed costs on concentrates and silage, farmers are always seeking ways to reduce costs and especially the higher costs associated with overwintering. Growing and feeding a Brassica crop, such as Kale has proved very successful for this Irish beef farmer. As a young farmer, working on rented land, with limited facilities for animal accommodation, being able to feed the animals outdoors all winter has also provided major savings.   

Description of the Good practice.

The farmer operates a calf to beef system purchasing dairy cross calves and selling males at less than 24 months and females at 18 months of age. Depending on market conditions some animals are sold at younger ages as forward stores.

To reduce the high feed costs during the winter period, when grass is available, a Brassica crop of Kale is sowed in late May and available for grazing from November to early March. 50 one year old animals are stripped grazed outdoors in their first winter on about 3ha of Kale. No meals are fed and no housing costs are incurred. The animals graze the Kale in situ using an electric fence as a moving grazing barrier. The key to maximum utilization and minimum waste is the daily management of moving the electric fence so as to provide fresh feed to the animals each day. Long grazing strips ensure all animals can graze at the same time. Kale is a high protein diet (18-20% CP) and in order to maintain adequate roughage in the diet, silage bales are fed as a supplement in situ in the field. Fresh drinking water is also available at all times.

The crop is sown in May, using 4.5kh/ha of Maris Kestrel seed. Along with farm yard manure, about 130kg N, 30 kg P and 170 kg/ha of K fertiliser are applied. An NPK compound is used at sowing and a Nitrogen top dressing is applied after emergence. A fine firm seedbed is essential following ploughing and tilling. Weeds are controlled by using a glyphosate pre sowing. Estimated yields are 9-12t/DM/ha.

Impact on farm performance.

The main benefits of grazing Kale in situ on this farm are;

In terms of economic sustainability, using Kale significantly reduces winter feed costs by eliminating concentrate purchases for a group of animals. In addition, there are very significant savings on cattle housing as this farmer does not have the accommodation facilities to keep these animals indoors over the winter.

Keeping the animals outdoors over the winter has proved to be very beneficial in terms of animal health and welfare. None of the animals every get sick or need treatment for pneumonia or any other type of disease.

Animal thrive and performance is somewhat dependent on the severity of the weather. However, when the animals go to grass in mid-March because they are used to the outdoors, they tend to use compensatory growth and thrive exceptionally well during the peak yielding spring/summer grass growing season.

In terms of environmental sustainability, this farmer incorporates the Kale crop growing area as part of his annual grassland reseeding programme on the farm.

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Farmer comment

“Kale as an alternative winter feed suits my farming system very well. I have limited winter accommodation and with good management, feeding some animals outdoors works very well. The benefits are lower winter feed costs, healthy animals ready to thrive very well when the move to grass in the spring.”

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