Enhanced forage allowance in late fall and early winter improves the forage budget in forage-based livestock systems. Spring oats and turnips can be an alternative, especially when farmers want to extend the grazing period.
Most producers plant spring oats in spring. However, spring oats can be planted in late summer as well for fall and early winter grazing. Spring oats will die out after the first hard freeze in the mid 20’s. Oats are a high-quality forage, almost as good as wheat. Since oats do not have awns, cattle can graze them easily.
Is it possible to plant oats and turnip at the same time? The answer is yes. Some wildlife hunters plant oats and turnips for their deer food plots in the fall. Producers can use the same concept for beef grazing in the fall.
Forage turnip is one of the forage brassicas (forage rape, turnip, kale, and swedes) and has very high nutritive value with 24 - 25% crude protein in leaves and 16-18% crude protein in the bulbs. Forage turnip has a high moisture content, so it’s not suitable for hay. The high moisture content of forage turnip can also be too “washy” for livestock, so it is recommended that animals have free choice of dry hay or dry forage along with the turnips.
Oats and turnip can be planted at the same time using a grain drill with a second, small seed box for turnip seeds. If a small seed box isn’t available, the turnips can be broadcast ahead of oat drilling. The soil disturbance from the drill is generally enough to get the turnip started after a rain. The seeding rate for oats is 50 to 75 pounds per acre, depending on how early it’s planted and moisture availability. For example, in eastern Kansas and under irrigation, seeding rates would be at the higher end of this range, or even higher. Seeding rates would also be higher when planting dates are later, although at later planting dates there will be less forage and higher seed costs. For turnip, the seeding rate is 2 pounds per acre.
Turnip is more winter hardy than oats, and can continue to grow into winter while maintaining its greenness even under snow cover. To have more growth, about 50 lbs nitrogen per acre can be applied at planting. If the oats and turnips are planted after a failed corn or sorghum crop, the oats and turnips may not need this much applied nitrogen. Both oats and turnips can accumulate high nitrates, so be careful. Forage should be tested before grazing. Samples can be submitted for analysis through the local county Extension office.
Potential yield for oats and turnip mixture might be 2 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre. Depending on the soil moisture condition, producers can start grazing about 6 to 8 weeks after oats and turnips are planted.
Figure 1. Spring oats and turnip pasture. Photo by D. Shoup, K-State Research and Extension.
Doo-Hong Min, Forage Agronomist
Romulo Lollato, Wheat and Forages Specialist
Bruno Pedreira, Southeast Regional Agronomist