Joe Bergbower holds a turnip and radish pulled from a 40-acre pasture on his farm. He began planting cover crops, including the root vegetables, five years ago, but has had an especially good stand this winter.
Joe Bergbower holds a turnip and radish pulled from a 40-acre pasture on his farm. He began planting cover crops, including the root vegetables, five years ago, but has had an especially good stand this winter.
NEWTON, Ill. — Despite a frigid start to winter that dumped several inches of snow on the ground, Joe Bergbower’s cows are eating well this winter.

The Jasper County farmer began planting turnips and radishes five years ago, and his herd has taken to the root crops with a passion. But that wasn’t always the case.

He had heard good things about using turnips and radishes in a cover crop mix and gave it a try. But the first two years were difficult

“We had about 20 acres for a couple years because the ground was so dry,” Bergbower said. “We didn’t get a good stand. Then we started planting radishes, turnips, ryegrass and crimson clover. The last couple years, we got a real good stand. This year was especially good because we got the crops off in August.”

The crops have done exceptionally well, due in large part to the devastating drought last year that wiped out Bergbower’s corn crop.

The corn was zeroed out for insurance purposes, and he cleared it early. That meant the cover crops were planted earlier than usual.

The turnips and radishes have grown large, pushing deep into the snow-covered ground on a 40-acre field on the farm.

The Angus cows can’t seem to get enough of them. They eschew hay and feed additives, instead preferring to munch on the bounty of the field.

“I was feeding hay since August, and they were eating a bale a day — big round bales,” Bergbower said. “We turned them out on the turnips until the first of October. They went right off the hay.

“They’ll eat about a bale a week. I have 200-pound protein blocks, on free choice, same as the hay. They were eating a block of week — 40 head of cattle. Now they hardly touch it. There’s something in these turnips. They’ve got the protein they need.”

Some of the turnips are the size of softballs, with lush, green tops. The radishes grow 8 to 12 inches long.

“The cows will eat the turnips before they will the radishes,” Bergbower said. “They’ll clean the tops off the turnips and clean them up. When they get everything off, they’ll go to the radishes.”

Bergbower has a total of 120 cattle. He calves most in the spring, making sure they’re out of the barn. The cows will feed off the winter pasture through February.

“The first of February, they’ll start calving, and I’ll have to get them out,” Bergbower said. “I don’t calve in the barn. I found out you’ll have healthier calves out in the field.”

Next spring, he’ll plant either corn or soybeans in the field, which faces a state highway. He is amused that some people driving by think he’s mistreating his cows by turning them out in the snow.

“They don’t realize that those cows really love those turnips and radishes,” he said.

Bergbower, who grew up on the here, has been farming at the same location for more than 50 years. He farms a total of 1,700 acres, growing corn, soybeans, hay and some wheat.