Oilseed rape

Management strategies to maximize production and nutritive value of forage rape

Maria Villagrasa & Fernando Diaz

Rape (Brassica napus) is a plant of the cruciferous family along with cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, etc. In recent years there has been a significant increase in its productivity, reaching between 11-14 T/ha, mainly as a result of new varieties and hybrids.

This plant offers good quality forage that can be preserved both as hay, silage, or even used as grazed forage because of its good regrowth. There can be large differences however in its dry matter (DM) content depending on the variety, so it is important to select those with the best forage characteristics and high DM production.

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A canola yellow field. Landscape

Grazing rape provides high quality forage

Alvaro Garcia

Livestock production under grazing conditions requires practical knowledge of animal behavior as well as plant growth cycles. Depending on the region of the world, the forage base may not available year-round, and requires management techniques that allow to save it for times of shortages. This has oftentimes consisted of either feeding conserved forages or stockpiling perennial forage that can later be grazed.

Orchardgrass and tall fescue are typical perennial cool season forage species popular in pasture-based operations. They are however not plentiful year-round and need to be supplemented with other plant species. One such companion has been perennial ryegrass which however has some issues of its own, such as a fast decline in nutritive value with maturity. Annual ryegrass however is sensitive to grazing pressure particularly when not grazed at an adequate point in its development, and in regions where climate is relatively adverse.

Rape forage as an alternative to traditional forages

One alternative that has been explored in the US is the use of forage brassicas. Brassicas are cool-season annuals that can help fill the gap with quality forage throughout the grazing season. Once established they grow rapidly, tolerate better the spring-summer warmer temperatures, and maintain a relatively greater proportion of highly nutritious leaves that helps later in the year. Their more widespread adoption has not been widespread because of limited research to understand their management under grazing conditions.

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