Every day I pass a field in which turnips are growing then, suddenly, a flock of sheep appeared in the field restricted to one part of it by electric fencing. At first you could only see the sheep’s backs as they were only a little higher than than the turnip leaves. Slowly the sheep ate all the greenery and about a week ago all you could see were sheep and turnips, no green at all. As the days went by more sheep appeared to be resting than eating and I expected the farmer to extend the electric fence in order to let them get at new turnip greenery. But no, the farmer seemed to be treating these sheep like recalcitrant children who wont eat their Brussel sprouts! They were left in the electric fenced off area to eat the turnips and they are ….. slowly. Sheep seem to prefer turnip green to turnip root. A bit of research pulled up this site which although it’s American seems to describe our local Hampshire situation exactly.
Turnip Pasture for Ewes
Purdue University has conducted research to determine the value of purple-top, white-globe turnips (Brassica rapa) as a grazing pasture for flushing ewes during the fall breeding season. Turnip pasture has a greater animal carrying capacity than conventional grass pasture. How the crop was grown and pastured in the Purdue study, and the results experienced are discussed here.
In late July or early August, seed was mixed with 12-12-12 fertilizer and broadcast onto a prepared seedbed at the rate of 2.5 pounds of seed and 50 pounds of fertilizer per acre. A chain harrow was used to lightly cover the seeds to help initiate germination and reduce loss to birds. Within 60 days, the field was ready to graze.
Because the upper part of the turnip taproot grows above ground, sheep will eat both foliage and roots. To minimize waste, the turnips were strip-grazed by limiting the grazing area with an electric netting fence to approximately 0.5 acre at a time. When each area was completely grazed, the fence was moved to expose an additional half acre. Water and a salt-mineral mixture were supplied free-choice.
Using this strip-grazing system, the pasture provided 45 days (October 1-November 1 5) of forage. However, under favorable weather conditions, this could have easily been extended another 15 days to December 1.
From this study, the following management procedures are tentatively recommended for fall-grazing ewes in turnips:
* 1.Maintain the sheep in approximately 0.5-acre paddocks until turnip foliage and roots are completely grazed. An electric fence or sheep netting works well in making the paddocks.
* 2.Provide salt-mineral mix and fresh water at all times. Since turnips have a high moisture content, ewes will usually consume less water than on grass pasture.
* 3.Ewes grazing unsupplemented turnips should gain 0.1-0.2 pound per day, which is adequate for flushing purposes. Therefore, do not feed additional shelled corn.
* 4.Consider using an adjoining grass pasture, especially during wet weather, for ewes to bed down at night. Shade in either the turnip or the adjoining grass pasture should be provided during hot weather.
* 5.For a grazing period of 35-45 days, use a stocking rate of approximately 20 ewes per acre. The grazing period could be considerably longer if weather conditions are favorable.
* 6.To maximize utilization of land intended for turnip pasture, consider seeding oats and broadleaf rape in early spring, grazing until July, then reseeding to the purple-top, white-globe turnips for fall pasture.
A forage turnip called Tyfon, developed by crossing a stubble turnip with the Chinese cabbage, has a leaf-to-root ratio of 95:5. It can be either cut or grazed and will have one or two regrowths during the summer. Tyfon turnips should be seeded in the early spring when soil conditions permit by drilling 5 pounds of seed per acre at a depth of 1 inch in rows 7-14 inches apart.