Chicory is a herb with a deep tap root which supports growth through dry periods. Chicory produces 8-16 tonne DM/ha of quality forage from September to May. Chicory is a multi-graze crop and can be incorporated into a rotational grazing system through its active growing months. The yield depends on many factors, including summer rainfall.
Chicory has high tolerance to insect pests and provides dairy farmers with an alternative to summer turnips in areas where insect damage is a problem. Its regrowth potential also provides more grazing flexibility compared to turnips. Milk responses to chicory in summer have been measured at similar levels to turnips.
Chicory does not persist indefinitely due to fungal root diseases slowly increasing in the soil and, if in a mixed pasture, potentially repeated selective grazing. In Northern regions under dairy grazing, farmers should expect no more than two productive summers, with the greatest production in the first year.
Well-managed chicory (0-20% stem) has a lower DM content than ryegrass-based pasture and generally contains less fibre, and more protein and soluble sugars. Chicory also has greater mineral content than ryegrass pasture. Chicory has high digestibility and low fibre content.
Chicory performs best and will persist longer when grown in free draining soils. It is highly responsive to nitrogen, particularly when grown without companion clover.
Chicory as a pasture mix
Where chicory is in a pasture mix the paddock should be managed as it would be as a normal grass/clover pasture, grazing to residuals of 1500-1600 kg DM/ha.
Chicory as a special purpose crop
Chicory is a high yielding summer crop. Chicory should be first grazed no earlier than the seven leaf stage (i.e. plants have seven fully grown leaves). This is normally 8 weeks after spring-sowing. This ensures that plants have well-developed tap roots to improve survival through the growing season.
Aim to feed about 20% of the cows’ daily diet (3-4 kg DM/cow) in chicory over a sustained period as the rumen requires time to adjust to chicory like any change in feed type. To do this 6-8 ha of chicory should have been planted per 100 cows.
Target covers are:
Pre-grazing 25-35cm cm height
Post-grazing 5-10 cm height
- These are the heights of the leaves, ignoring the stems.
- Chicory will generally take about 2-4 weeks to reach 25 cm height depending on the time of year and weather.
- Letting the leaves grow beyond 25 cm will not accumulate any more leaf, just increase growth of the lower quality stems.
- Frequently grazing at 25 cm is recommended because as plantain leaves age, they become more fibrous, less digestible, and the quality declines regardless of stem content.
- Care must be taken as dairy cows will readily graze lower than 5 cm and management strategies need to be in place to ensure this does not occur.
2nd year crop
- The decision to take chicory through a second year should be made in autumn. As a guide at least 30 plants/m2 are required to achieve a yield of 10-12 t DM/ha in the second year. If chicory is to be taken through a second summer, it is important to avoid overgrazing and treading damage in the autumn.
- If chicory is taken through a second year, chicory is semi-dormant in the winter (June-August), chicory should not be grazed through this period. Grazing during this dormant period reduces the size of the root and can damage plant crowns which creates entry sites for fungi, and reduces the survival of chicory plants.
- Second year chicory plants have a strong urge to go to seed. Careful management is required to minimise the number of plants that have mature stems, second season chicory should be grazed closer to 25cm height. Grazing cows generally avoid mature stem, reducing the utilisation of DM grown.
Chicory is more sensitive than ryegrass to sowing depth and soil temperature. It establishes best when sown into warm soils (12°C) at less than 10 mm depth. Spring sowing is preferred as plants develop quickly, and reproductive stems won’t grow until the following spring.
Chicory should not be planted following a lucerne crop as they harbour root diseases which affect chicory persistence.
The recommended seed mix for a crop is 4-6 kg/ha chicory and 3 kg/ha clover or 4-8 kg/ha chicory if sown without clover.
For adequate plant survival after establishment, the first grazing should not take place until there are at least 6 true leaves per plant.
For information on herbage quality, yield assessment, feed allowance production and managing the crop see the Chicory management Farmfact.
Quality of Choice chicory and Tonic plantain