Hang out with Al and Juddy this month as they do some “kale time” and take you on a journey with this amazing plant.
They cover aspects of biology, farm systems, animal health, and establishment considerations along with their normal banter.
"Kale is far more flexible than we've ever thought of before. The reality is it can fit inside your feed program in more ways than we have traditionally used it."
Juddy So Allister, really good to see you again in this episode of The Al & Juddy Show. What are you going to be talking about?
Al Glenn we're going to be talking about kale, and we're going to go through and look at a bit of the history associated with Agricom’s legacy with Kale and what sort of journey we've been on. And it's quite close to my heart because our path with Kale started right when I started my job with the company. And so I've been working with this species for about 25 years now, and it's been an absolute pleasure walking away through this one. So, I'm going to cover off a lot of that context around the history and how things have changed, which, you know, you've played a major part of this as well, especially in the grazing side of things. And look at a few animal health considerations, establishment considerations, and just go through a few things that we've done just out of interest around the work we've done with Kale over the years. I think that pretty much will see us right for this one Glenn so fire away.
Juddy So I guess probably the first thing we need to talk about is when we talk about Kale, we probably should define what we're talking about and give our listeners kind of a mind picture of what a kale plant looks like. And then some of the ways that we use this. So, I guess for you botanic nerds, we're talking about the brassica oleracea. So, the kale sometimes in the olden days, you know back when you and I were a bit younger than we are now. Used to be called Chowmolia I think or Chow for short. And it's really a plant that we've used for particularly winter feeding to hold cattle at times when pasture growth isn't as high.
Al It's got a long maturity and a long holding time.
Juddy Yeah. So, a very useful plant that. But, actually, if we come back to something we might be more familiar with more of our listeners, and that's around the fact that we eat kale and you see it in the health food shops, you know, we add it or some of us, and it took a lot of cooking. And so, it is actually something that's been used in human nutrition for a long period of time. But probably I'll ask you this one. Why does Elton John not put kale in his salads?
Al Oh, I don't know why Elton John doesn't put kale in his salads.
Juddy Well it's, it's quite obvious because he's a rocket man.
Al Oh that's a shocker Glenn.
Juddy Anyway, let's move on. Let's move on to another one.
Al Well done.
Juddy So we've got this plant and typically we're feeding through the winter. So that's the picture of what that is. Let's start right back at the beginning in terms of Agricom’s history of kale and how that's developed some of the key cultivars that have been brought to market maybe had its uses changed over time. And let's dive into some of the work that we've done throughout our careers.
Al Yeah. And I think another nice way to just tease that out right from the start before we get into our history would be that we've discussed other crops, often times and you tend to find these different styles and types. And in the kale market, there are roughly speaking around three styles of kale, as I stand, there are relatively short styles and probably to even step back a bit further. Kale is defined as a plant that is almost like a rainforest in style, and then it has a stem. That stem consists of outer layers, which have a different thickness that protects a marrow. And the marrow is a high carbohydrate, high energy source that outside of that, the skin and the inner part of the stem can liquefy and protect that marrow with a layer of wood and which is pretty much lignin. And the key to this is that's where all the varietal differences occur. That and the fact that different varieties hold their leaf differently over time. And so you've got these big definitions of this stem plant with different thicknesses of stem between varieties and different amounts of marrow in the stem, and they hold different amounts of leaf. And so when you start to work out, you know, what's the genetic basis of each variety, you tend to find that there's a shorter types that may have larger amounts of marrow in the stem and hold a little bit more leaf. And you tend to find that they are more suitable for the sheep and the young cattle industry. You've got an intermediate type that actually can stretch out and become quite a tall plant, anywhere up to 5 to 6 feet high under fertile conditions. And these can be both larger stemmed, but also narrower stemmed depending on circumstances. And then you've got naturally tall types that are always pushing upwards of five, five foot to six foot regularly. And this is what the plant is trying to achieve. Grown individually, these plants can also have very large stems. We tend to manage that. So you've sort of got these shorter types designed for young stuck in shape. You've got these intermediate types that are the jack of all trades. They can be used for young stock and also carrying large volumes. And you've got these more consistently high-yielding large types that we've often referred to as giants. So shorter types, intermediates, and giants, so that your three kale categories. Now where we start our journey is that when I joined my original team, we were just commercialising a variety called Sovereign. Sovereign kale and very, very proud of this variety because it was a market-leading variety for over a decade, which is pretty much an indication that people have used it, have found it consistently reliable, and come back time and time again to use it over and over. And Sovereign for me was quite a unique variety. And that, given a bit of space as an individual plant, never grew a large diameter stem, tended to have a genuinely thin style of stem. This can be influenced a little bit by sewing rights, and we'll discuss that later. But Sovereign was really defined by having this quite thin stem for the amount of leaf it carried, and also it carried a large and consistent amount of leaf.
Juddy So to stop you there and go, we're talking about this leaf to stem ratio. And I guess if we just want to tease that out a little bit more, what's the real problem with having these big stems?
Al Well, remember, what I see is that the different varieties change and the depth of outer layers within the stems are different between varieties. And remember, I use the word lignin. Lignans wood. So, the bigger your stem, the less nutrition you know, the less, the poorer the nutritional profile of your landscape, the more stress you have, the older the crop, the more lignans forms and the structure of the stem. And that's a massive decrease in quality.
Juddy Yeah. And I think probably, one of the really good examples of the impact this has is we've done some work over time. Where we've looked at the bottom third of that kale stem and we've compared that to things that you would not normally suggest you should feed to cows. For example, we actually used a box that people carry beer in.
Al A cardboard box.
Juddy And what we actually found was the nutritional value to the cow, for example, of the bottom third of the stem and the cardboard box we put our beer in. Wasn't that different.
Juddy And so having big stems, you are at risk of this very poor material and having to leave it behind. And also having to deal with it if we're going to our next crop. So, some real challenges where we've got. Because big stems will give you big yields.
Juddy But maybe not edible yields.
Al And that's a good context to highlight a lot of the work we did in the 2000s. So quite early on in the piece, we identified that Sovereign had quite an interesting stem shape. It is quite a small diameter plant naturally. And remember, I've already said you can influence the diameter of a kale stem by sewing rate. Which we're going to tease out later. But the point is, genetically so, Sovereign had quite a narrow stem. And what we identified quite early on in the piece, it means that the lignified part of the stem was actually quite a small proportion of the total. It didn't make up a large part and we identified that very early on where we split stems into quarters looking at the top quarter, the middle two quarters in the bottom quarter. And we sort of saw quarters as being more effective than thirds because a large number of the industry attempted to graze the scale to very high utilisation levels greater than 90%. Which meant that you consistently ate into that bottom quarter. And so understanding what it meant to graze the bottom quarter was quite important, understand the total animal's diet. So that was a little bit of history that started in the 2000s. I feel it's probably a good space to look at that timeframe before we get to where we are today with which we've had a cultivar change in the last three or four years. Which has been really exciting for us. But the work that went before that, that has sort of got us to the place we are today. And I suppose it's really hard sometimes for people to understand the context of the mid-2000 and winter feed allocation and the way people perceive that they could grow animals on winter brassica. Was very different in the 2000s, particularly the middle 2000s than it is today. And to be fair, you pioneered a lot of work on sort of busting the issue of a general belief that you couldn't put live weight gain or body condition scores on cattle with kale in winter. And probably ask you to take us through that journey because it was a pretty important journey for the industry which to be fair, has grasped that concept and taken it on from now. So that bit of history is sort of stuck in the mid-2000s.
Juddy Yeah. And I think you've identified really what the general thought of kale was that it was a plant that didn't have the nutritional value in it and the quality of it to put on live weight in the cattle. And particularly in our dairy stock to add conditions score it. We're trying to do you know over that winter period and prior to calving. So to address this to try and understand you know what was behind this. We actually did a survey of a number of different paddocks, you know, across a wide agricultural area to try and understand what the metrics around kale was. So we visited 100 odd paddocks throughout the South Island of New Zealand over a couple of winters. And it was really interesting to look at the yield of those kale, and how much was being utilised in a grazing cycle.
Al Just describe how you were doing that though, just to give a clearer picture of what all that means.
Juddy Yeah. So, we typically drive into a paddock that was being fed off and typically these paddocks are being break fed. We would make an assessment of the yield by cutting several quadrants to ground level and measuring what was in those quadrants and then drying that material down. So doing a full assessment of yield, we would then do the same thing in.
Al By the way you went doing the whole paddock yield, you were doing that yield of the break directly in front of the animal.
Juddy So the grazing face. Essentially, we were measuring that, and then we would go one break back and we would measure how much was being left behind. So not exactly in the same area, but it gave us a really good indication of the rate of utilisation of the yield that we were measuring. So, we did that and then we started looking at allocation. So now we had a yield and a utilisation. If we knew the area of the break and the number of cows in that area, we could estimate how much each cow was getting on a daily basis.
Al Let me get that right. You measured your paddock dimensions.
Al And you identified exactly how much that the farmer was giving in a break.
Juddy Yeah. So, we measured the break dimensions, so we knew the size of the break, the area which the cows were grazing every day. And with the number of cows, we were able to calculate an estimate of what they would be eating. And there were a couple of things that came out of it. The other thing we did is then split our kale into the leaf and the stem fractions and looked at both the dry matter and the quality of those to try and understand maybe why we weren't getting the growth rate or the increase in condition that we were expecting off this particular plant. So from that there, is probably some key takeaways from that.
Al But unless I'm mistaken, you also did a survey and you asked questions about what the farmer was doing.
Juddy Yeah, one of the key questions and I'm glad you reminded me of that Allister. One of the key questions was we were asking farmers what they thought they were feeding, and that was both on kale, but also some of the supplements that were going with it to give us an idea of what the targets were. And there were some key take homes from that. And actually, that information has been published and I'm sure if, you know, a search would pull that up. But the key take-home message for me was, across our survey area, the average tonnage that we were measuring was somewhere between 10 and 12, which is a really good industry figure.
Al It is 10 or 12 tonnes of dry matter.
Juddy Per hectare. And that was, it was good that it was about the level that we thought it was. So that felt about right. Utilisation on average was about 85%, and so we are using or eating a large proportion of that. There was some variation around that.
Al And interestingly enough, some of the modeling that was being done at the time and this may mean something more when the rest of this discussion comes out. But a lot of people were using 75% as utilisation figure for winter feeding at that point of time.
Juddy Yes. And I think that it is another good point that even in some of our advertising material we were quoting at that time, we were quoting lower figures. So, it was good to recalibrate that and know that you know, in good conditions that an 85% utilisation was entirely feasible on a commercial farm.
Al And that’s the average by the way.
Juddy Yeah, that's an average. So, there were some that were higher and some were lower, but on average, 85%. What was the absolute startling result that we gained from this was. When we compared what the farmers thought they were feeding to cows and what we physically measured on the day, that we visited by doing the yield. Looking at the area and the number of cows, there was a huge difference between that and across all of our herds. Two thirds of them were missing the kale intake by at least three kilos. So if you assume that a cow, let's say on average we're feeding cows ten kilograms of kale, for example. Two thirds and it was the target, two thirds of our herd were seven or less. And so really this whole idea that kale was not a good enough quality to put weight or condition on cattle, it seemed that we just physically weren't feeding them enough kale to put weight and just to put condition on.
Al Just to also understand that missing three kilograms at just say, using a round figure to make math easy, 12 megajoules of energy, that means and from there maintenance and potential live weight gained are missing 36 megajoules of energy.
Al Just by underfeeding them by three k's.
Juddy So, that is essentially you might say a third.
Juddy And so we missed what we thought we were feeding and what we actually were feeding was quite different. And so really it was the why are we doing this?
Al What's going wrong?
Juddy What's going wrong here? And so, when you looked at it, did we think that people were overestimating the yield of kale? No. Well, it wasn't the case.
Al And I'm very confident that’s right at that time, what I was always confident of as an industry, both at farmer level, support level, we could actually estimate kale quite reliably within you know a tonne of yield.
Juddy And so you go well have we not estimated the utilisation right. And we were probably too low. Not too high.
Juddy And therefore it makes this even worse.
Al That's the point.
Juddy It's in the wrong direction.
Juddy So really when we looked into this, the key thing about our under allocation of kale to cows was we were simply putting the fence in the wrong place. The allocation of the area to cows was not appropriate.
Al And so unless I'm mistaken, industry wide in the mid-2000s, virtually no one in that survey could tell you the dimensions of their paddocks.
Juddy And that was one of the things that we came up time and time again was when we got our land wheel that we use sometimes to measure the dimensions of the break. You know, a lot of our growers, our farmers were interested to learn that because that was something that they didn't know yet. They were very confident that they were feeding ten kilograms per cow. And my way of thinking, if you don't know your break dimensions, then that's a fundamental of working out how much you're feeding your cow.
Al And it makes total sense that you could be underestimating it dramatically just by missing out, because from a little bit of long-term history associated with feeding and winter. Fence posts have always been very convenient positions to set up a new break and not always as that mathematically hitting your targets. And so the reality is sometimes convenience drove the decision on how much to offer.
Al So not necessarily any actual maths.
Juddy Yes. And so people were putting those brake fences where it was convenient for a fence post rather than that you know what mathematically would represent a good allocation.
Al So interestingly enough, I hear you guys were doing some other work in conjunction with Lincoln University at the time, which I think was probably as big a breakthrough in my eyes as this. And this was where Lincoln was identifying you've mentioned an allocation of ten kilograms, which is basically eight kilograms of kale and two kilograms of a fibre source, possibly hay or silage. And so fundamentally that was a large scale applied diet across, you know, the wintering platform in the mid-2000s. But at the very same time, Lincoln was doing some work on just how much a cow could actually eat.
Al In winter with kale.
Juddy Yep. And I think that was the other breakthrough is that until that point, it was kind of considered that, that was fully feeding a cow and it as we increased allowances. You know, through ten to 12 to 14, we actually worked out that some of these dairy cows, which weren't much bigger than 500 kilos, were able to eat, you know, above 14 kilograms. And therefore, when you look back at these allocations of only 10 kilograms, you know, essentially those animals will have been being under feed by quite a long way. And therefore, the premise that it was the kale quality that was causing this problem has certainly not been found to be the case. It's very much around the allocation of that. And our belief that you know, we were pretty close to maximum intake at 10, for example, was wrong. These animals have the ability to eat a lot more than we thought they can.
Al And what I really loved about that work, because first of all, it happened about the same time as your survey work, which basically highlighted we had a mathematical issue going on, on farm. We just didn't get our dimensions right. And across the industry technology has helped us map paddocks better and understand dimensions a lot better. In some landscapes, it's really hard to manage when they're not rectangular or square and you're on a hillside and stuff like that. It's often quite difficult. But this whole concept of being able to feed animals right up to those sort of figures you just quoted like 14 k's of kale, plus hay or silage. The interesting part that blew my mind is those very same animals were still utilising that at about 90%.
Al So, there was no limitation on you. Offer them a lot and you must then, therefore, leave a lot behind and which is quite a strong philosophy and a lot of what we do. But they were actually eating to very high utilisations if you've got your dimensions, right.
Juddy Yeah. And so they were still able to eat a lot and eat most of the plant. Particularly when you know earlier in the season where we don't necessarily have a lot of lignification in the bottom, it's a relatively easy plant to clean up. So, I think that was where we've come from.
Al Is pretty cool actually. It was a big changing point in kale feeding.
Juddy Yeah. And I think it's also been a changing point in terms of, you know, the ability to put body condition on cows, realising just, you know, how much is required to do that.
Al Yeah, I think you'll say there was actually still quite nice and to just still breaking this plant a part about the time of year. Because when a crop phase where we're planting in regularly either an irrigated environment or winter cool environments with decent summer moisture but cold winters. And so what we're doing is we're planting our kale pretty well at the end of spring or early summer and then taking it as a long season crop all the way through to the first months of winter. What we tend to do is get in a frenzy in the last month of autumn and do our pre-season measurements. So we're getting our understanding on how much feed we have to supply a grazier or how much we've got to feed budget for inside our farm platform. The thing to be aware of in May with kale is that that's its time of maximum leaf holding ability. And so what you've got is leaf ratios at their highest end. So at the start of June, you've got the strongest balance between a good leaf holding capacity and a leaf to stem ratio that's, you know, anywhere between or on a right variety around 50/50 leaf to stem. However, the very natural processing with plants is that actually as you go further and further into winter, you come back down to a more winter habit. And I've found in kale you get through to about July. It's very, very hard to hold more than three and a half to four tonnes of leaf. Where and in May you may have measured six tonnes of leaf. What happens though by July when you've dropped off another one and a half tons of leaf, you then see more lignification occurring in the stem as it's preparing itself to hold itself up as a future seed crop. And it's a natural process. And so what you lose and leaf you pick up and dry matter of the stem which means that from May through to July and then into August, your actual diet quality slowly declines as well. And so that's been a good awareness is as we've measured these crops and seen the change in leaf to stem ratio and quality over time, it's become really obvious that this is a very natural process.
Juddy And so that has implications I think for the management of the crop, particularly the animals on it. And the comment I would make there is if you've got this crop that is transitioning from a very leafy low lignin crop through to something that's dropping leaf in its lignification. What I would say is your expectation in terms of utilisation should probably drop as you go through. The second thing I would say is that because the brassica and the kale is changing, you probably need to think about whether your supplement changes as well. In particularly where and maybe in the last trimester of pregnancy where we are needing, you know, good protein sources, and, depending on what style you've got and if you're able to hold leaf and you know, if you've got like the fine stems, it may be that you hold the highest quality in terms of protein supplement. Towards the end of the season to, try and combat this change in the plants. I think that natural change there is some things that we can do to try and alleviate some of the issues that that may cause.
Al And the way I look at that practically as well as I'd focus on having my high fibre, low-quality fibre source, which you may consider as best practice for feeding with. I look at kale and all truths. It's a very whole feed. It's a very complete feed. You never say you shouldn't use fibre with it when it comes to a ruminant and a large scale ruminant like a cow who's quite a fast grazer. But to be fair, the fibre element of the diet is really to get out of jail if things go wrong type scenario. But I would be right along with you there in saying the best time to load the animal with a low quality feed is at the very start when the kale is at its highest quality and slowly graduate through into the end of grazing where you're trying to put your grass silage back into that system or the high protein feed back into that system. When you're trying to get that rumen change, getting ready to come off crop back onto grass.
Juddy Because of course, the other thing is that the high quality supplement that you're feeding, in the end, can also provide a common feed source as you transition back onto your grass. And so I think that there's a common link there. And wherever we can have common parts of the diet, even though the whole diet might be changing, it was very useful in terms of getting through some of those transition challenges.
Al And I would say the other common theme that I've been working beside and watching over time, we've just described a change of supplement. One of the big take home things I would talk about with the use of supplements is don't change them too much. You know, when you move from one silage heap to another, this is when you get some of your feeding disorders. Because the reality is, you know, once an animal is adjusted to a supplement and they get a change in supplement, they may show preference. And in doing that, they may eat more of one thing at a critical point of time than they should. So that probably leads on to a couple of the animal health considerations that we've seen over time on kale, because it's actually a very, very high quality plant. We've identified some of the feeding constraints that we've now got past and we now can fully feed and we can budget if we want to. We can budget to put live weight on animals with kale. But leading into that, that does create, you know, some risks in feeding. So what sort of things have you seen over the years?
Juddy Yes. So I think you're saying it's a relatively safe crop to feed. But I think the thing is, there are some things we need to be mindful of. Where on occasions, we have come up against some challenges from an animal health point of view when we've been using this. So I think the secret to this, most of the issues that we see, you know, in terms around, you know, the bloats, for example, or the, you know, acidosis comes from when we have got animals that are consuming material really quickly. Now that really comes from the fact that you've got hungry animals and they're gorging. And so a lot of these nitrates is another one. But bloats especially, you know, this is an intake rate disease and therefore where we have appropriate allowances and we've got animals that aren’t overly hungry, then I think we very much steer away from most of those issues. But, bloat and nitrates, other are two things that we've just got to be mindful of.
Al Particularly early in the season. And some of that is potentially weather related too. Yeah, we get some more higher risks after frosts in the morning. And that's a big deal for shifts like you say when they're hungry and wanting to eat.
Juddy Yep. And again, some of this is you can't foresee, you know, your putting on your last lot of nitrogen to really give it a kick on. You get a lot of overcast days and therefore, you've got a high nitrate issue. But I would encourage people to, you know, to be testing to make sure that there's a not a risk there. But a lot of this is really around good transition and making sure those animals aren't hungry when we. So again we come back to that allocation.
Al Just out of interest that leads onto one more, your more interesting projects which I would define as sort of a very cool idea of dealing with that sort of gorging habit that you tend to find, particularly with dairy cows, when they're competing with their the sisters basically to have get as much food as they possibly can. There are the multi day breaks was an interesting one and we will define this from the very start. The work you've done has been on free draining soil. And there's is a pretty big disclaimer right from the start that this project that we're about to discuss has been carried out on free draining soil and probably doesn't represent what would happen on heavy clay downs.
Juddy Yeah, but I think and you're right, so I think that's the warning that we put out there to start. But actually, the principle is really interesting.
Al Yes, it’s very cool.
Juddy And so the whole idea is typically what we would be doing when we break feeding eating kale is that we would shift the brake every morning. And, you know, there's some advice out there to say that we do that after the frosts come off and we do their allocation for the day and we might put some supplement in there, we might actually feed them supplement first and then shift the kale break. But then we're doing that on a daily basis. Now, if you were looking at going this quite high labour and put in there and we might be running into issues where we've got hungry cattle, for example, you know, is there the opportunity to maybe not shift the break quite as often, but have a larger break? And so this project that we initiated was looking to see whether there was any difference in terms of growth rate of cattle during the winter or utilisation when we went from the traditional daily shift. Right. Through shifting just twice a week. Yeah. I like to go mountain biking in the weekends. We were shifting on a, so we weren't shifting on the weekends we were shifting on a Friday and a Tuesday first thing and so we shifted the break twice a week. But the allocation was the same. So they just got a bigger break. But they were going to take all the three or four days to get through it. And there were a couple of really interesting things in the setup there that really demonstrated the value of the system. So what we did is we set the allocation. These animals were young animals and they were going to eat seven kilograms of kale a day. So we set the breaks up to eat seven kilograms a day. And it was really interesting. The ones on the daily break ate their allocation went and sat down, had their supplement, and looked quite happy. The ones on the three and four day breaks, the twice a week. Those guys had finished into the second day. Same allocation, but they had eaten all their crop in a day and a half. And it was meant to last them three days. And so we came back to this idea that animals are eating more than we think they're eating. The ones on the daily break they had finished the kale maybe at 4:00 in the afternoon. And we were comfortable leaving them there, and so we shifted them the next day.
Al The key is that they had eaten enough.
Al To be comfortable?
Al But the point is, given choice, they could have carried on eating.
Juddy Right. And so what we had to do is we had to increase both of the allowances because they were equal. To a point where the ones on the two day break. Well, sorry the three to twice a week on the three or four day break that they were just finishing by the third or the fourth day. And so when we did that and it was equal, for the daily break, instead of having being finished by 4.00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, there was still substantial material there at 7:00 at night but was gone by the morning. And so what it showed us is if we go to these longer breaks, it does show how much they are capable of eating and that a daily shift does mask under feeding if you're trying to maximise the amount they're eating. Now, the flip side, the reverse is actually also true. If you're trying to limit kale intake or you're trying to limit intake to maintenance, you've got to do that on a daily break because that's.
Al Three days luxury feeding.
Juddy A luxury feeding for them. But, so what they did demonstrate is that we are able to feed quite successfully three and four day breaks, shifting them twice a week if we are offering high allocations, really interesting and changing in all behaviour. The ones on the daily break. Basically, we got to the feeds they were they're ready to go, particularly when we didn't have their allowance quite right. The amount that they were eating in the first hour was massive. Was like, boys are boarding school, right? They are just hoeing in because they know that if they finish first, they're going to get seconds. The animals that were on the much longer breaks, the three and four day breaks, the haste in which to eat was not there.
Al Yeah, they had no drive.
Juddy There was no drive. That could each as much as they like. When they wanted. And therefore, the intake rate, and then potentially some of the risks of some of these issues were so much lower. So I think and so at the end of that experiment, we were looking to see whether there was any change in growth rates. Those growth rates were almost identical because the allocation was almost identical. So we don't lose anything by going to these longer breaks. What really surprised us and again, you come back to this idea that we're in very free draining soil. And a lovely wintering block as we could find no difference in utilisation. We thought they'd be trampling all over it and that we needed a daily breakthrough to do that. That may be the case in heavier soils. But for our soils, there was no evidence that the utilisation was any different. What was a huge difference was the behaviour of the cows and actually the behaviour of us, because we didn't have to quite shift those ones quite as often. And I can tell you shifting kale breaks is not exactly something high on my list of priorities when it comes to the weekend. So, but some really good principles there around feeding kale an allocation and intake.
Al Yeah. And the other thing that was parallel to that is that was done with a giant kale, a large stemmed kale, so it had a low leaf to stem ratio. So less leaf, more stem. And at that time it was Sovereign, which again by that stage had become an industry standard for its category. And what really teased out is that because you'd allocated the same amount, we were also looking at this from the supply of protein in the daily diet. So you didn't get big peaks and troughs of protein because of the gorging phases and then not having a lot to eat for that last part of the grazing round on a once a day and then being able to manage that cyclic nature of protein entering the during the diet because this leaf in the 3 to 4 day shift for longer. But the point is they still had the same amount of total energy and when that came down to it, they grew uniformly for the variety in question. What teased out dramatically though is that in both grazing systems, the giant kale with a bigger stem, with lower quality got really exposed for its live weight gain under the system and most importantly, got really teased out by the three day break. The three day break really highlighted the difference between a high quality kale and a lower quality kale.
Juddy Yeah. And in that quality, I think they're really critical bit it was obvious, very obvious of the grazing residuals that are prepared to take out. The giant stems while they were giving you the highest pre grazing mass. The yield of that kale certainly had a much higher post grazing mass or residual that they weren't prepared to eat.
Al Which means when you allocate the same amount, they are literally not eating as much because they are actually rejecting the last meal.
Juddy And I think, from memory, the effect was much larger. Instead of just looking at the energy value of that, the protein value as you think you've indicated was much larger again.
Al Because remember what I said, that the protein of these sort of crops, green crops is carried in the leaf, not the stem, the stem is made up of lignin in carbohydrate with moderate amounts of, you know, plant nitrogen or protein. Whereas the leaf is the big driver of protein content. And again. If you've got a disproportionate amount of stem, you're actually, especially for a young animal. You're sort of just tanking a little bit on the protein levels.
Juddy So I think that's where, and it's a philosophy that you and I have had Allister around, not necessarily total pre grazing yield, but this idea of edible yield. And that's really important to consider that when you are looking for, you know, kales that are going to yield well in your commercial situation, that you do take some consideration of not just the total yield, but what your animals are going to consume easily.
Al Yeah. And I think that leads in beautifully to, you know, a modern phase we're in at the moment. We have just released a replacement for Sovereign, which was a, like I say, it was an industry standard variety across a large part of the country. It would have had the single biggest variety or footprint in New Zealand for about ten years straight. We've now released another product called SovGold and there has been a bit of a highlight of its development is that it is a step forward in stem quality and brought the leaf along with it as well. So we've sort of picked up a little bit of stem but at a higher quality. And we've picked up a little bit more leaf at the very same time. So we've picked up, I think the yield advantage and crease off of SovGold over Sovereign is about 8%, but in the past, it would have been all at the cost of leaf and it would all be high dry matter stem which may have not been positive for its overall quality. Whereas I look at SovGold today and it's an outstanding quality product where the utilisation of that stem is actually really consistently very high.
Juddy And I think it's another really good example of it as a good example of where the learnings from some of our kale work has very much focussed us in on finding replacement products on the things that really matter in the paddock.
Al Exactly what we value.
Juddy Yeah. And so this idea that it's not yield but edible yield and that leafs, really important. But, if we're going to have more stem, it's got to be of an equal or a higher quality I think really has driven us to a certain style of kale. And I've got to say, you know, being able to get an increase in yield without any cost to the quality of that has been a remarkable achievement. And I agree with you. I think it's a real characteristic of that product that actually has real implications and benefits in the paddock.
Al And both those two varieties. One of the other things I've valued, and it started with Sovereign because it was quite unique and that they actually flower quite late for their genetic material around at that time. And so, you know, SovGold won't actually throw yellow flowers in the field until late September, literally almost at the start of October, which is very big for farm systems because there are parts of our landscape that would still like to feed out winter save kale right through to the first month of spring. And I feel that's a strong trait when the majority of kale today goes to seed and actually turns yellow at the end of winter and right at the very start of spring.
Juddy Yeah. So again, it does give flexibility around. What we're not describing there is just because your kale is flowering, you can't graze it because there's a lot of flowering kale. It is actually grazed, you know, every year with probably no issue at all.
Al Tens of thousands of animals eating.
Juddy Yeah. But, I think in terms of the ability to flower very very late means is a little bit more flexibility there. Yeah that you don't have to have the same you know once we're starting to go to flower you need a strategy in terms of how you're going to clean that up. It's something that you, it's not you can't graze it, but you've got to have a pretty strong strategy to start getting rid of that.
Al At some times you've got standing 12 tonnes of dry matter, which is actually starting to become very lignified and it's a nightmare to clean up if you've got excess left in the field. So that's a big deal. A couple of the things that have changed and developed in recent times, particularly SovGold shown some strong traits in this. Is that we've actually seen it start to take on a role for both as a summer crop and even a late autumn grazing phase. Now we've used it as a late grazing option for dairy platforms where it's been put in November and it's been grazed in the last months of autumn to keep the grass round out until the end of autumn.
Juddy So that's actually to lactating dairy cows.
Al Lactating dairy cows, and that's been going on for a very long time to some quite great success. And recent years fodder beet has played that role on several farms, and that's a carbohydrate source which has got good body condition score changes when you're supplementing that at 3 to 4 ks in the cow’s diet at the end of lactation, it's doing well. Also prepping them for their winter diet as well. But kale can form that role as well. But moving out on to our lamb and beef operations, you know, using kale, which is traditionally a long season crop with no maturity requirements whatsoever for grazing animals as a summer feed has become quite a new concept. Relatively speaking, a lot of people on the East Coast of the North Island have been doing it for a number of years, but it's actually taken on another role because of its flexibility, and its ability to graze it whenever you actually want it to. You can graze it to waste. I graze it once and then have the paddock free to do other things or you can actually take the top out of it, graze it and then give it a long break. Our SovGold will actively regrow.
Juddy Yeah. There was probably something that surprised me in some of the more recent work that you've done is you always consider kale as a one off graze but really impressed as long as you're kind to it and that first grazing that the amount of leaf in high quality leaf free growing on that plant is actually quite stunning.
Al Yeah. And just a bit like a discussion we had on the summer crops in a previous podcast. The reality is you still grow about the same amount in total. It's just you using it differently. I think the bigger part of the flexibility is twofold. One is what happens if it rains all summer and you don't need a summer crop? Your countryside is covered in grass. You've got other crops or other forages that are, you know, performing above average. The beauty of having kale as part of that summer feed opportunity is that if you suddenly decide not to graze it, it doesn't degrade and get old and is much more advanced than, for example, forage rapes that just get old and fundamentally lose all their palatability if they're left for 160 days. Whereas kale at 160 days is literally doing its job. And I think that's a really big difference. The flexibility of what happens if you suddenly have lots of feed around, you can move it into your wintering programme.
Juddy And I think that's a really important consideration when you're in environments where they are least predictable. Yeah, and I think we're seeing more of those. And so having this the ability to, to play what's in front of you, and have that flexibility is really big in today’s environment.
Al And the second thing associated with a summer crop and the flexibility of it but also kale's role in wintering is that it's a genuinely club root tolerant species, however. And so what that means is that a number of our other brassicas, including swedes, which some people call rutabaga, but Swedes, forage rapes, leafy turnips, some of the bulb turnips for winter, they're are all susceptible to club root, which means fundamentally they can't be cropped in brassica cycles greater than 3 to 4 year rotations. So crop once and then move on and come back to them in 4 to 5 years. So Kale has more resilience to club root and can be cropped at least once or twice. The key is that there's probably a little bit of bad behaviour where kale has been intensified to such a degree that it may go 3 to 5 years in cropping rotations. What I would say is it's the strength of it, that it's club root tolerant in the sense that you can plant it and not be at risk in a summer cropping situation. But the problem we are slowly facing is with 20 to 25 years into large scale kale usage in New Zealand particularly, and what we are now starting to see is strains of club root and disease are loading, starting to elevate to such a degree that it's now not completely uncommon to see club root in kale in different regions in New Zealand. So we've got to be careful that this crop is highly, highly valued for wintering and as you can see, possibly used strategically in the summer. But the reality is we don't want to abuse it to such a degree that we actually work out one day we wake up on can't use it. And so remembering crop rotations is a really essential thing for giving the longevity of these crops on your farming systems.
Juddy Well, listen, it's been a fantastic and quite nostalgic trip through the subject of kale. I wonder, Allister if you could accept the challenge of maybe pulling out one or two key points from our discussion.
Al I noticed you didn't say three.
Juddy And do some take home messages for us, on kale.
Al Yeah. And I'd probably, I would just highlight a couple, one thing before we do that though Glenn. Is that I didn't discuss the establishment of kale and all I would say is just remember, it's still a sort of a vegetable like crop and we need to get our seedbed preparation, right. It's a really important species for your farming system. If you're investing in kale, you want to get it right from the start. So I focus on seedbed preparation. If it's direct drilling, low covers, low residuals, and good nitrogen use at the start. Remember phosphate drives brassica performance to a very high degree, and strategic nitrogen is essential for getting a high quality forage at the time of grazing and just keep an eye on insects and also we didn't discuss it but there is a few other options associated with that summer grazing that's important, but take home messages.
Juddy Yeah, well, let's just try that again. Let's, I have given you a chance to have a think about it now. Yeah well, it’s well padded. So give us two or three take home messages that we should be thinking about when we think about kale.
Al Understand what you're asking your animals to achieve when you're grazing kale, is it maintenance or is it live weight gain or body condition score? And be aware that you need to feed accurately to achieve those outcomes. So you cannot have an expectation for live weight gain if you don't feed them enough. That's one. And the second one is to be aware that kale is probably far more flexible than we've ever thought of before. And the reality is it can fit inside your feed programme and a much wider spectrum than we've probably traditionally used it. And more and more I see in the farming sector, the flexibility of feed use is becoming more and more attractive, putting it in for one thing, but knowing it's a species that can then go and morph into another thing is actually quite valuable. And at this stage, only kale really can pull that off.
Juddy Excellent. Well, I see someone's put some cattle in me sheep yards, so I better go and sort that mess out. And, we might see you next time.
Al Thanks Juddy, catch you later.