Scottish farmer saves £16k from winter grazing sheep on Redstart

Wednesday 29.11.2023 , News

Last winter, Scottish farmer Richard McCulloch eliminated more than £20,000 of cake spending by winter grazing sheep on Redstart hybrid brassica. Find out how Richard has gone from breaking even on sheep to them becoming a profitable part of his livestock farming system.

Faced with rising feed prices, Richard was looking for an alternative to concentrates when he was convinced by Germinal forage expert William Fleming to try Redstart.

What is Redstart hybrid brassica?

An interspecies of kale and forage rape, Redstart is a hybrid brassica offering the benefits of both. With Redstart, you can have the fast growth of rape and the cold tolerance of the more digestible kale.

Richard McCulloch farms 850 Mule ewes and a pedigree herd of 135 cattle across 400 ha (1,000 acres) at Overhill House, Bathgate, in West Lothian.

Farm facts: Overhill House

  • Farming 480 ha (80 ha rented)
  • 60 ha of winter and spring barley (mostly for home use)
  • 850 commercial ewes in a stratified system
  • Draft North Country Cheviots and Scottish blackface bought in
  • Home-bred Cheviot Mules used
  • 135 pure Simmental herd
  • Lambs sold through United Auctions (Stirling) and Scotbeef

Establishing Redstart

After harvesting winter barley in July 2022, Richard sowed 13.5 ha (33 acres) of Redstart seed. Establishment entailed ploughing, power harrowing and rolling with a heavy roller, followed by drilling and a final pass with a Cambridge roll to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

“We’ve grown some really impressive crops. Redstart is big and tall and it has proved hardy,” Richard told Farmers Weekly in a recent interview . “We can grow it across the farm, and it’s done fine on heavier land and the lighter land.”

Scottish farmer saves £16k from winter grazing sheep on Redstart
Brassica grazing management

Barley stubbles were used as a runback for sheep to have a dry lie and stubble to graze. He then subdivided the crops into four equal sections. This was to strike a balance between utilisation of the Redstart and time spent fencing and moving sheep.

The fences intersect at two concrete troughs halfway along the perimeter of each field on opposing sides to provide adequate water. Redstart can grow 0.9 to 1 m high, so a front flail mower is used to cut paths for setting up fences.

Benefits of Redstart hybrid brassica

Redstart gives Richard’s sheep an excellent source of homegrown forage offering 12-13 MJ/kg metabolisable energy and more than 20% crude protein.

Vigorous summer growth and resistance to bolting help maintain quality from sowing in July to October and November when lambs graze Redstart. Ewes then graze what’s left plus any regrowth from Christmas to late March.

Cost-cutting with homegrown forage

When finishing lambs, the farm used to need up to 40 tonnes of lamb finisher pellets including 5 tonnes of concentrate (eight weeks only during autumn). Now, just 100 stragglers require cake for finishing late in the year.

Ewes, meanwhile, are grazed on grass and fed ewe rolls with a snacker when grass covers are limited in November and December.

Scottish farmer saves £16k from winter grazing sheep on Redstart

With Redstart, twin- and triplet-bearing ewes only need six weeks of cake before lambing starts in April, which Richard says has saved 24 tonnes of cake.

In total, Richard estimates the establishment cost of Redstart to be £6,000. After cutting £22,400 in cake costs, Richard calculates a net gain of £16,400.

Winter 2024/25 plans

In 2024, Richard will go further when winter grazing sheep, having drilled 12 ha (30 acres) of Redstart hybrid brassica and 12 ha (30 acres) of stubble turnips for added diversity. He hopes this will delay putting the sheep on grass in spring – leaving more grass for after lambing – as well as keeping bought-in feed costs down.

Redstart will be sown after winter barley or tired grass leys to improve productivity and soil health.

Redstart ideal for winter grazing sheep

In a time of high input costs, Germinal can provide homegrown forage solutions like Redstart to help you be productive, profitable and sustainable. Contact our experts below to discuss winter grazing sheep or any of our other forage solutions.