How to Feed Turnips to Dairy Cattle

Turnips tend to be grazed on instead of harvested.
Turnips tend to be grazed on instead of harvested. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Turnips are becoming increasingly popular as a low cost protein source in dairy cattle nutrition. The leaves contain 20 to 25 percent crude protein, while the root offers 10 to 14 percent protein. For this reason, farmers tend to allow the cows to graze on the turnip leaves rather than harvesting the whole plant. This is less-labor intensive, and allows for multiple grazings in a year. Turnips are annuals, meaning that they must be planted every year.

Things You'll Need

  • Planting equipment
  • Companion crop
  • Fencing material

Plant the turnips. The ground must be plowed with either a moldboard or no-till plow, and then disked with a cultivator. Plant the turnips seed with a drill planter. The turnips should be planted with a companion crop, such as oats or timothy. If you plan on planting turnips again the following season however, you may not want to plant a companion crop, since it will be plowed under the following year. You can plant turnips any time of year that the ground is tillable, but it is best to plant them in summer, so they will be grazable in late fall. Another advantage of the turnip, is that they can be grazed on after it freezes.

Build or repair a wire fence around the turnip paddock. This will involve pounding metal posts in the ground, attaching plastic insulators to them, and stretching a wire through the insulators. It is best if the wire has an electrical source.

Evaluate the growth of the turnips after 45 days, to determine if there are enough leaves available to pasture your cows on them. The longer you wait to release the cows in the pasture, the more turnip growth will be available for them to eat. You can pasture them on the turnips at anytime, however.

Observe the pasture at least every several days to measure how fast the turnips are consumed. This will be determined by the paddock size and the amount of cows grazing. When all the turnip leaf growth has been consumed, remove the cows from the pasture.

Allow the turnip paddock to rest at least 20 days before pasturing cows on them again. Again, the longer you wait, the more growth that will be available.

Tips & Warnings

  • Feed cows high quality hay or allow them to graze of grass pasture two weeks before feeding them turnips, to allow their rumen fermentation to adjust to the change in diet.
  • Check the cows daily during the first two weeks of grazing, as rare cases of hemolytic anemia and pulmonary emphysema are possible. Look for sluggish behavior or heavy breathing.

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