If you farm livestock then you now have a range of forage plants to grow for feed as well as good pastures. Forage brassicas have been used as supplementary feed for many years, and now there is an increasing range of cereal crops developed specifically for fodder rather than grain. Furthermore there are annual legumes that can be grown with root and bulb brassicas and these will add to the feed value. Then there are grazing herbs like chicory and plantain, and legumes like lucerne, birdsfoot trefoil and sulla, which further extend the menu for your animals.
In general forage brassicas and the fodder cereals are used to provide feed during periods when pasture grows poorly, such as mid-summer and winter. They work as an “insurance” crop and offer high quality feed for stock in pinch periods. These crops can also play a valuable role in farm rotations, following or preceding other crops, and they are valuable when renewing pastures.
When you are buying seed of these forages or seed for pastures, remember to buy certified seed as this guarantees the authenticity of the cultivar and a high seed purity – there’s no point in sowing weeds, is there? Use treated or coated seed when local conditions make it worthwhile, as this helps to establish the crop well. The newer legumes, sulla and birdsfoot trefoil can be tricky to grow, so be sure to obtain good information on them before sowing them. Chicory and plantain can also be sown in mixtures with some pasture grasses and clovers, but check with your seed retailer about this before trying it.
The newer forages listed above can supply very high quality feed with a high digestibility level – around 90 percent, and much higher than spring pasture, which is usually around ten percent lower than this. However, avoid letting hungry livestock rush in and eat them, or they will end up with bloat!