Corn harvest is in full swing in my neck of the woods, and it’s amazing to see how many harvested fields are plowed under rather than allowing cattle to utilize the residue for fall and winter grazing. In a recent Ohio State University (OSU) BEEF Cattle Newsletter, Rory Lewandowski reminds producers to not overlook corn stalks as a feed resource.
“Corn residue can meet the nutrient needs of ruminant livestock that are in early to mid-gestation,” he says. “Livestock typically consume any corn grain first. After the grain, plant leaves and husks are eaten and the last portions of residue eaten are cobs and stalks. Strip grazing across a corn field can even out the nutritional quality because livestock will be forced to consume both the higher and lower-quality components of the residue within a given grazing period before the fence is moved to provide a new strip.”
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Lewandowski advises producers to utilize the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Corn Stalk Grazing Calculator, which can be used in six different ways including:
1. To estimate acres needed, using the number and size of the animals, the length of time in days animals will be grazed on the corn stalks, and the corn yield.
2. To estimate the number of animals given their size, number of available acres, number of days you expect to graze, and the corn yield.
3. To estimate the number of days to graze, given size and number of animals, available acres, and corn yield per acre.
4. To establish cost per animal daily and over the whole grazing period.
5. To estimate total cost for all animals.
6. To estimate nutrient cost.
Lewandowski included an example of using the calculator. “I entered a165 bu./acre corn crop and an animal weight of 1,400 lbs.” he wrote. “According to the calculator, using a 50% harvest efficiency, one acre of this corn stalk residue could provide up to 60 grazing days for that 1,400-lb. beef cow.” This tool has been very helpful in our operation, as we run our herd on multiple fields during the fall and early winter months, or as long as the snow holds out. Last year, we were able to graze until mid-January, and it definitely saves us money to utilize corn crop residue and supplement with hay as needed.
In fact, Bruce Anderson, UNL forage specialist, says winter grazing corn stalks can save over $1/day/cow compared to feeding expensive hay.
Of course, to get the most out of a harvested field, other variables must be considered such as accessibility to water, how far from home the fields are located, and plans in case winter weather strikes.
Do you graze crop residues? If so, do your cows gain on corn stalks? Do you feel it’s an adequate feedstuff for gestating cows going into winter? How much do you supplement? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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