Forage crops can offer an alternative wintering option in some parts of the country, where land type allows.

Spring-calving suckler cows, store cattle destined to return to grass next spring or replacement heifers are just some stock classes that are suited to grazing forage crops over winter.

However, there are a few things to consider prior to introducing cattle to the crop for the first time.

Gradual introduction

Cattle need to be introduced gradually to brassica and hybrid brassica crops to lower the risk of acidosis or stomach upsets.

The best way to do this is to allow stock on the crop for a few hours during the day and move them off at night for the first few days.

Make sure they have access to either grass or silage when not on the crop, so that they do not gorge themselves when given access to it.

Grazing infrastructure

Good grazing infrastructure is important to allow you to get the maximum utilisation from the forage crop.

Outwintering can help overcome housing shortages and provide a perfect winter diet when managed correctly.

Strip grazing the crop in long narrow strips moved daily will maximise crop usage.

Make sure you place temporary fence posts every 5m to 7m, to ensure no sagging of the wire, which may allow cattle to slip under the fence.

Fence power

A highly-powered fence is a must if this system is to be a success. Mains fencers are the best option. Battery fencers can be used, but they need to have a well-charged battery at all times.

When moving the strip wire, be sure to knock down the crop so that it is not earthing off the fence.

Dragging a lorry tyre behind a quadbike is a quick and effective way to beat down the crop. Stock will still graze the majority of the trampled forage if daily allocation is correct.

Monitor body condition changes

Not all stock will adapt to outwintering successfully.

It is important to keep a close eye on any changes in body condition while grazing the crop. If you see any animal losing condition rapidly, act fast and remove them from the crop.

Fibre source

Forage crops are low in fibre, so it is necessary to provide stock with a sufficient source of fibre, in the form of hay, silage, straw or old stemmy grass.

Do not expect young leafy grass to provide sufficient fibre. The forage crop should make up no more than two-thirds of the animals' total diet on a dry matter basis.

Minerals and water

While water intake will be low on forage crops, access to a source of clean, fresh water at all times is important.

It is also important for stock to have access to a dry lie-back area at all times.

Concentrate feeding is not generally required on forage crops. However, mineral supplementation should be offered.

Forage crops tend to be low in phosphorus and magnesium, as well as trace minerals such as copper, iodine and selenium.

Mineral supplementation can be achieved using powder feeders, lick buckets or boluses. Supplementation through drinking water is not suitable, due to variable daily intakes of water when grazing forage crops.