Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has this week launched a new video which highlights how to make the most of turnips as a low-cost winter feed crop and the importance of taking steps to keep sheep clean.
According to Kirsten Williams, SAC Beef and Sheep consultant with SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), farmers should be starting to plan their winter forage crops for 2018/19 in the coming weeks.
“Turnips offer a great source of nutrition for sheep and lambs can gain 200-250 grams per head per day from a well-managed turnip crop,” said Ms Williams.
“There a number of factors to consider when planning to make the most of a turnip crop for sheep next winter. Does the proposed turnip field have good shelter for sheep and plenty of water for them to drink, without risk of causing erosion via burns? Is the field flat and free draining enough or could the slope of the field also cause erosion.”
One key aspect of managing sheep on turnips through the winter, she said, is ensuring there is adequate run-back. “Sheep need a clean, dry area where they can lie and ruminate and get off the crop. This year has been a challenging one in terms of the amount of snow we have had which has melted and added to the problems some areas have had with poaching on the back of a very wet summer.”
Ms Williams said it was very important for hygiene reasons that sheep are presented clean and dry for slaughter.
“Dirty lambs will be penalised at the abattoir and auction market, so ensuring sheep have a run-back area is a key part of good husbandry of sheep on turnips. It may also be necessary to take animals in overnight to allow them to dry off before presenting them for slaughter,” she said.
Andrew Littlejohn, a vet at Kirkton Veterinary Centre who is also involved in the family farm at Auchronie in Glenesk, emphasised the importance of keeping sheep clean for their health and welfare.
“It is important for the welfare of the sheep and the income of the farmer that they are kept clean. If they are not, and presented to an abattoir or auction market, the farmer may well face a penalty,” said Mr Littlejohn, who also features in the new QMS video.
“We run 500 Cheviot ewes at Auchronie. We keep our own replacements and then we aim to finish the rest of lambs and to do that bring them down to the lowland to overwinter on turnips and other root crops.
“Our aim is to get our lambs away at roughly 42kg prime finishing weight and we find turnips are just a great, reasonably-priced crop to help us achieve that. They are easy to manage and strip grazing is simple and easy to fence and run,” he said.
Ms Williams also emphasised the need to ensure lambs on turnips have a good supply of fibre available to them.
“This could be in the form of hay, or straw or silage but around 20% of their intake being silage would be ideal to keep their stomachs correct. It also means if you do have a period of snow when the sheep can’t get to the crop, they have that alternative feed source available to them,” she added.
The video can be found in the QMS video library: https://qmscotland.co.uk/potential-turnips-winter-feed