Fodder crops advice for livestock farming

Fodder crops advice for livestock farming

A lack of winter seed food is the main cause of declines in seed-eating farmland birds.

By tolerating the growth of broad-leaved weeds within a fodder crop and allowing them to set seed, it is possible to provide a seed-rich food resource for birds while still growing a good fodder crop.

What

Tolerating some broad-leaved weeds in brassica and root crops (such as swede, turnips, fodder rape or kale) will provide benefits for wildlife. This allows an understory of broad-leaved weeds to grow for wildlife, while still allowing a productive crop to develop.

Fodder crop Richard Winspear

Why

A lack of winter seed food is the main cause of declines in seed-eating farmland birds such as grey partridge, linnet and yellowhammer. By tolerating the growth of broad-leaved weeds within a fodder crop and allowing them to set seed, it is possible to provide a valuable seed-rich food resource for birds. Research has shown that brassica and root crops can hold higher densities of seed-eating farmland birds than cereal stubbles. Broad-leaf weeds typical of fodder crops such as fat hen, hemp nettle and redshank are a highly valued source of seed food for birds.

Beneficial insects will feed on annual plants and over-winter in their stems. Brassica and root crops also provide cover for wildlife such as brown hare and game birds through the winter.

brown hare

How

Brassica and root crops are good competitors with weeds once established, and moderate weed levels later in the year have little effect on yield. If comprehensive weed control is required, consider leaving small strips or corners of the cultivated field unsprayed (or even unsown) to provide sacrificial weedy areas.

Crops established by sowing into a cultivated seed bed have greater value for wildlife than those established by spraying off grassland with a broad-spectrum herbicide and direct drilling into the desiccated sward.

Crops grown in a rotation with grassland are best fitted between relatively short-term grass leys as most arable plants need regular opportunities to germinate if they are to persist.

Stubbles following fodder brassica and root crops can attract nesting lapwings, particularly in large open fields. If it is not possible to delay cultivations until chicks have hatched (generally May) then condense field operations into as short a time as possible so birds can re-nest in the newly sown crop. If machinery operations are spaced out through March and April, there is potential for first and replacement clutches to be destroyed.

Avoid growing fodder crops in fields prone to soil erosion. Identify any areas liable to soil erosion (e.g. steep areas) or pathways for run-off (e.g. valley bottoms) and maintain these as grassland. Maintain a wide grass buffer strip alongside any watercourses.

Some birds prefer to forage in the cover of the crop, while others prefer bare ground with seeds left on the surface. Strip grazing can open up fresh ground regularly for birds to forage.

Strip grazing along the contour line, working down the slope, limiting periods of grazing and providing run-back areas can help reduce the risks of soil erosion when grazing.

More information

Hancock, M.H. & Wilson, J.D. (2003) Winter habitat associations of seed-eating passerines on Scottish farmland. Bird Study, 50, 116-130.

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In practice

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