Turnips make for some great extra grazing, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, in his latest Hay & Forage Minutes.

  • Crop residues, such as corn stalks, provide good winter feed. And adding turnips or cereal rye to them can sometimes make them even better. Anderson says feed value of corn stalks declines drastically once the grain and husks are consumed, but some growers have improved both the amount and quality of corn-stalk grazing by flying turnip or rye seed onto standing corn in early August. When successful, the turnip or rye plants provide extra grazing days and extra protein when corn stalks become poor quality.

    “Let me emphasize the words ‘when successful’,” he adds. “It’s not all that easy to get a good stand of either turnips or rye to become productive in a growing corn field.”

    Moisture easily can be limiting in dryland corn, but also can be difficult to manage in surface-irrigated fields. Even under pivots, providing water for rye or turnips without slowing corn harvest takes planning.

    “Another problem is the density of the corn canopy. Irrigated fields can be especially thick, acting like weeds to prevent adequate light from reaching new seedlings. Chopping corn for silage or combining high moisture grain early helps,” he says.

    Regarding weeds, Anderson adds that herbicide carryover also causes problems, as turnips are very sensitive, but rye also is affected.

    “Lastly is wheel traffic at harvest. Turnips are damaged more than rye, but both lose stand if fields get muddy,” he adds.

  • Planting turnips into wheat or oat stubble this year can provide some high-quality pasture for late fall and early winter grazing, Anderson says.

    He says turnips provide good grazing beginning in October and often lasts into the new year. Turnips are also cheap to plant, as seed can cost less than $10/acre. And now is the time to plant turnips for fall grazing.

    Seedbed preparation and planting can be done several ways. Some growers work soil like a fully prepared alfalfa seedbed, while others heavily disk their ground, but leave it fairly rough before broadcasting seed. A few growers spray glyphosate or gramoxone on wheat or oat stubble to kill weeds and then plant no-till.

    Whatever method used, good early weed control is essential. Turnips do poorly if weeds get ahead of them, but once started, turnips compete very well. Since no herbicides are labeled for turnips, weeds must be controlled either by tillage or by using contact herbicides like glyphosate or gramoxone before planting. Then plant quickly to get the turnips off and running, Anderson says.

    “Plant only 2-4 lbs./acre of turnip seed. Turnip seed is very small, so barely cover it. If you drill your seed, just scratch the surface with your openers. Simply broadcasting seed onto tilled soils works well for many growers, especially on rough seedbeds where rainfall or irrigation washes soil onto the seeds for soil coverage,” he says.

    Then, just wait. With a few timely rains, you’ll have excellent green feed for late October, November and December, he adds.
    -- Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska