AIRDRIE, Alta. — Planting kale seemed like an interesting experiment for one southern Alberta grazer.
If it works well, Graeme Finn may try it again.
Kale is part of the brassica family, which includes turnip, radish, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and canola.
It produces plenty of leafy material and long taproots and has a high nutrient value. As well, the cows seem to like it.
“If you take a stalk and chew on it, it is really flavourful,” Finn told a tour group from the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association Oct. 8.
European farmers have used turnips and cabbage for fodder as long as there has been domesticated agriculture. However, this experiment could be a first for the area, and the American seed supplier, PGG Seeds, wants to see how it handles climate extremes.
PGG Seeds produces and markets cool season forages, grasses and forbs. Company representative John Snider thinks they might survive in the foothills.
“I would not have brought them up here if I did not think they had a chance of working here,” he said.
“All these plants are bred and designed to regrow, oftentimes under less than ideal management.”
There has been success with kale in some of the mountain states.
“Overwintering these is problematic, and we have got to find out how that is going to work here. They definitely are not following any of the climate zone maps as far as their behaviour. They are pretty tough plants,” he said.
Constant regrowth is one advantage.
Finn planted three pounds of the kale along with seven lb. of rye grass per acre in a 140 acre field that was used for oat swath grazing the previous year. Oat volunteers are plentiful, but the kale grew well throughout the field.
It is fast growing, and feed analysis came up with a crude protein level of 18 to 25 percent.
“It would be great on a rotational grazing pattern when you need summer feed,” said Finn.
The variety was called Winfred, a turnip-kale cross with a taproot rather than a bulb.
“You are not beholden to the strict 90 to 110 day period that you would require plus the moisture you would require for a turnip,” Snider said.
Finn plans to turn his cows out in the field this winter and will monitor how well the cattle and plants work. He will put in electric fences and move the cows regularly so they can clean up what is offered.
Regrowth of both species will be monitored early in the spring.