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Turnips Make Great Forage Crop
Dale and Richard Yoesel didn't just fall off the turnip wagon. In fact, they've got a pretty good hold on it.
These Rulo farmers and dairy producers are raising turnips as supplemental fall and winter pasture for their 50 to 60 yearling Holstein steers and replacement heigers.
"The turnips fill a void at a time when pastures aren't the best," Dale says. "They're also a cheap source of quite a bit of forage."
Last year, the Yoesel brothers had two fields of turnips for a total of 35 acres. They've been using turnips for pasture for at least 4 years, Dale says. The most they've planted was 60 acres.
According to Bruce Anderson, UNL extension forage specialist, turnip tops contain anywhere from 13 to 22 percent protein, while the bottoms or roots can be between 9 and 14 percent protein. The digestibility for the turnip tops and bottoms is between 70 and 87 percent, he adds.
"You can compare the turnips' protein content and digestibility with corn grain that has 10 percent protein and 90 percent digestibility," Anderson says. "Turnips compare favorably as an energy feed."
The Yoesels say turnips work well in a double-cropping situation. "We plant them following wheat," Dale says. "We disk the wheat stubble, field cultivate and then drill the turnip seed at about 3 lbs. per acre (at approximately $2 per pound)."
According to Anderson, turnip seed should not be planted more than 1/2-in. deep. Dale adds that it takes about 60 days to establish a good stand of turnips for pasture.
"We turned the steers and heigers out onto the first turnip field the first week of October," he says. "We moved them off the first patch, Dec. 1, and put them on the second patch of turnips. Then, because we had to bring the heifers home to start artificially inseminating them, we took them all off of the turnips the first part of January."
Salt and mineral blocks were the only kind of supplement the Yoesels needed to supply the steers and heifers that were pastured on the turnips.
"We didn't need to feed them hay or anything else," Dale says.
So, do cattle instinctively know that the bottoms, as well as the tops of turnips, are edible?
The Yoesels say the cattle figure it out.
"They eat the tops and chew on the roots that are sticking partially out of the ground," Dale says. "If the ground is loose enough, they can pull the bottoms out and eat them. Because of the dry weather in the past couple years, the ground has been pretty hard. So about two-thirds of the way through the grazing period, we go in with a field cultivator to rip the turnips out of the ground and the cattle eat them."
Dale says the biggest advantage to pasturing turnips, in addition to their use as supplemental feed, is their cost-effectiveness.
"All we have is tillage, planting and seed costs," he sys. "We don't fertilize them, though some people do."
Dale sees moisture use as a possible disadvantage to double-cropping turnips. "The turnips might take moisture out of the soil for next year's crop," he says. "then, the next year's crop might suffer."
Another disadvantage is the high moisture content of the turnips themselves and the effects from that high moisture content on the cattle.
"Because the moisture content of the turnips is high, the cattle manure tends to be pretty `washy' (loose)," he says, noting that you can solve the problem by feeding a little hay or cornstalks along with the turnips.
(Story reprinted courtesy of NEBRASKA FARMER)

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1990 - Volume #14, Issue #6