Cattle Grazing: Turnips and Other Root Crops for Livestock

Using turnips and other root crops for cattle grazing is an old concept that’s making a comeback in rural North America.

  • Turnips expand grazing options and improve pasture quality.
    Photo by Chris Benedict
  • Turnips expand grazing options and improve pasture quality.
    Photo by Chris Benedict
  • Pasja turnips, above, have been developed for rapid growth and high performance, with a high leaf-to-bulb ratio – perfect forage crops for beef cattle.
    Photo by Chris Benedict
  • To revive aging pastures, turnips can be used to help create root channels for moisture and reduced compaction.
    Photo by Chris Benedict

Historically, man and beast alike were great beneficiaries of the turnip plant. Heck, before the 20th century, beef producers relied heavily on a steady stream of crops to sustain their herds through winter, even in a specific order of turnips, rutabagas, and fodder beets (mangels) and carrots, based on crop storage qualities.

But if you think turnips are simply something European farmers commonly grazed and fed hundreds of years ago, think again.

In an era of high feed prices and widespread, persistent drought, new turnip varieties – such as Pasja – are giving beef producers an opportunity to extend grazing options and seasons. Just as important, turnips can help improve pasture quality.

Way out west

Chris Benedict, regional specialist at Washington State University Extension, directed a two-year study of root-crop production in 2011 and 2012 to help farmers in western Washington make decisions about using root crops such as turnips in livestock operations.

“Pasja turnip produces massive amounts of biomass per acre,” Benedict says. “The plant has very little root system in comparison to other varieties, such as Purple Top. For a grower, that means the plant puts a lot of energy into the forage. Pasja also has potential for multiple harvests since it can be grazed or cut within 30 to 40 days after planting, and then allowed to regrow.”

Beginning in the 1600s, turnips were grown extensively in England for winter feeding of sheep and cattle, as a pasture crop for pigs, and winter fodder for sows.

10/22/2020 6:10:13 PM

Can you feed turnip tops to your equine ?

9/23/2020 3:42:47 PM

Mixed turnips with cereal rye and radishes, as well as other forage crops for grazing. Livestock would be most of the winter on it. Gabe Brown, ranches in ND, does that and rarely has to hay cattle. niio

1/18/2016 10:31:37 AM

Assuming these seeds form a turnip. Do we leave them in the ground or harvest them before they rot?

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters