John Griffin is thankful he wasn't afraid to try a new crop. Griffin, of Nickerson, KS, has raised canola as a dual-purpose crop for the last four years. The first growth is used for fall grazing, then the crop is harvested for oilseed the following summer.

“Canola grazing works similarly to grazing wheat or rye, but the relative feed value (RFV) of canola is almost twice as high as those other two crops,” says Griffin.

Former Kansas State University canola breeder Charlie Rife has seen young canola forage test higher than 400 RFV. Young wheat and rye are often in the low-200s.

“Canola's higher in TDN and energy and can yield up to 3 tons of dry matter/acre, though 2 tons/acre are more common,” he says.

“Canola shows a lot of potential as a grazing crop,” says Rife, who now works in the private sector in Wyoming. “You don't want to graze brood cows on canola because they'll get too fat, but cow-calf pairs and stockers do very well on it.”

On average, Griffin's stockers gain 2 lbs/head/day while on the canola. His stocking rate is high — sometimes up to 70 head on 30 acres over about a 50-day period.

“Canola's very palatable,” he says. “The cattle graze it clear to the ground and then we turn them out on wheat.”

Griffin, who sells certified seed of canola and several other crops, has helped producers in Kansas and Oklahoma get started grazing the oilseed crop.

“I'm happy to be a resource for them,” he says. “I'm confident now in what we're doing and the benefits canola grazing can provide.”

Canola, a brassica like turnips, is becoming more popular in Kansas and Oklahoma for both grazing and seed production, notes Rife. In 2003, 2,700 acres of it were planted; in 2004, the acreage jumped to 22,000.

“My guess is that about half of those 22,000 acres were or are being grazed,” he says.

If canola will be used as a dual-purpose crop, Rife recommends seeding it in late August or early September. “If it's going to be harvested strictly for seed, early to mid-September is ideal for planting in this area.”

Griffin has tried seeding with an airplane, a drill and mixed with fertilizer. “I haven't seen much difference in how the stand comes up with the different types of seeding,” he reports.

But he cautions that the seed should be planted very shallow, then the soil should be packed. “If we have moisture, I like to put it in the ground around Labor Day.”

If the canola will be used for grazing and seed production, he seeds 6-7 lbs/acre vs. 5 lbs/acre for strictly seed production. Older varieties of canola seed cost about $1/lb, says Griffin. Newer varieties run around $1.25/lb.

The crop should be ready to graze six to eight weeks after seeding, says Rife. Griffin turns his cattle onto the canola when it's about 1' tall — usually around Oct. 15. They graze it until late November.

Griffin offers one caution. “For the first time in four years, I lost two animals to bloat in one day last fall. That was a management error on my part. It's crucial to keep hay in front of them.”

Adds Rife: “Canola shouldn't make up more than 75% of the ration. The other 25% should be something with some fiber in it to help slow down the canola as it passes through.”

Griffin supplements the lush canola with alfalfa or sorghum-sudangrass hay and minerals. The cattle also have access to a bloat prevention block.

He says his seed yields are reduced by as much as 25% because he grazes most of his 150 canola acres. Seed yields of grazed canola average about 1,800 lbs/acre.

“It's worth it to me to give up the seed yields for what I'm gaining by getting profitable gains and lengthening the grazing period. I can also get the cattle a little bit cheaper by buying them earlier — at the tail end of September vs. late October.”

Last year, he received 12¢/lb for the seed, which was crushed at a plant in Lamar, CO. “I anticipate that the price will be closer to 14¢/lb this year,” says Griffin.

He says cattle seem more passive when they're on canola. “I don't know what's in it to cause that.”

“There have been some reports cattle really don't take to it very easily until temperatures drop,” adds Rife. “Maybe there's a change in the flavor when the weather turns cooler.”