A new hybrid brassica that has the unique ability to ‘bounce back’ and provide two crops in one season made a successful debut on one Shropshire sheep unit last year (2020). So much so that the drill is being primed ready to sow a crop again this spring.
Tim Cains from Bridgnorth runs a 500-ewe flock – 300 Welsh mules and 200 Scottish Blackface hill ewes. Lambing starts in late March and lambs are reared for finishing from September.
“This puts a lot of pressure on our grassland,” says Tim, who combines his sheep enterprise with a mobile sheep dipping business.
“We lamb the mules indoors then turn the ewes and lambs out onto grassland. We’ve 130 acres of grassland for the sheep, and finish around 500 lambs, keeping 120 ewe lambs for replacements.”
Lambs are weaned from the second week of July, and in 2020 Tim moved them straight on to the hybrid brassica Skyfall; a new forage crop from Limagrain UK that has great growth potential, and the ability to ‘bounce back’, during summer.
The idea of this mid-summer forage crop came from seed manager local merchant ACT’s Mark Sheridan. “We wanted to ease the pressure on the grazed grass and reduce reliance on bought in feed, should the grass be in short supply later in summer,” says Tim.
“We got 24kg of seed – treated with Start-Up to promote germination and even establishment, for our 13-acre ley (5.3ha). I drilled it in early May and by the time I moved 300 lambs on to it at the end of July the leaves were so big we couldn’t see the lambs. There’s not much bulb, but plenty of leaf.”
And it went down a treat. “The lambs loved it, and devoured the crop in three weeks, grazing it right down. We moved them off in mid-August onto a red clover sward and supplemented their diet with some creep.
“I then waited to see if the crop did what it was meant to do and re-grow enough for another grazing. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical. We’d only had three weeks grazing off the crop so far, so its value depended on a re-growth. We needed another three weeks of grazing to make it viable; to justify growing it,” he adds.
It wasn’t a very long wait before Tim knew this crop ‘had legs’. Within 10 days, regrowth was about 30cm. “I took photos of the crop on August 24, as I couldn’t believe the speed of the regrowth. It was exceptional.”
About 270 lambs were moved back on to the Skyfall at the beginning of October and Tim pulled finished lambs off the crop at around 40kg liveweight. “They sold well – the market was fairly strong last autumn. All bar 56 of the smallest lambs were sold in October; something we’ve never achieved in the past. We’re normally aiming for the Christmas market, and don’t really ‘push’ the lambs. We didn’t have to with this crop, but we got to finishing weights much earlier.
He admits that this sort of hybrid brassica is a new one for him. “But it worked really well. Lambs reached finishing weights more cost-effectively, and it gave the grass a break too.
“And I gave the crop a fair test as we used some fairly unproductive permanent pasture to grow it. It wasn’t very fertile ground and maybe not the best choice to try out this new crop, but it performed far better than I expected.”
Plans were to follow the brassica with a herbal ley in autumn but this was put back to spring 2021 to make the most of the regrowth. “I’d still got 56 lambs grazing it in late November.
“Maximising home-grown forage production is crucial and fine tuning the cropping rotation will improve output,” says Tim. “We grow 20 acres of turnips for over-wintering ewes and high energy fodder beet for later finishing lambs.
“We also need to up the grassland management but establishing new leys is challenging here as the stone in the soil makes ploughing very difficult. So being able to burn off grass and drill a brassica in directly then burning off again before planting a herbal ley saves time and machinery. It also helps clean the old grasses out ready for the new ley.
“A rotation of brassica, grass and roots seems to work well for us. And the regrowth track record of this brassica means I will aim to sow it earlier this year – I might get even more from it through summer and autumn!”
Click here to find out more about Skyfall bounceback brassica