grazing corn stalks

What Are Corn Stalk Bales Worth?

It’s hard to believe the time of year is here already, but combines are entering the fields in my neck of the woods. We were hit by an early June hail storm and had a cool summer, so yields are expected to be down in many fields and some will be used for silage. After harvest, the corn stalks on many fields will be baled or the fields grazed by cattle until winter weather arrives.

We’ve been going back and forth regarding buying or baling corn stalk bales, or running our cows down the road to our corn fields for grazing. Certainly, it would be easier to let the cattle graze stalks vs. feeding bales this fall, but since they will be further down the road, there is some concern about getting them home before a blizzard hits. Plus, we think corn stalk bales make pretty good bedding in the winter time, so there’s the added value of using the stalks from our own field vs. purchasing straw.

 

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A recent article by Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, discusses the pros and cons of baling corn stalks for feed, and I thought it was worth passing along. Here is an excerpt:

“What are corn stalk bales worth?” asks Anderson. “One way to look at it is from the cost standpoint. Nutrients removed by stalk bales may need to be replaced with extra fertilizer. Using this fall’s prices, stalks contain about $10 worth of nitrogen, phosphate, sulfur, and lime/ton.

“Corn stalk removal also can reduce soil organic matter, increase erosion risk, and increase soil water evaporation. Nebraska research shows that dryland corn yield declines about 2 bu. for each ton of residue removed while irrigation cost increases similarly to maintain corn yield. That’s another $8/ton.”

Anderson adds that baling corn stalks is much harder on equipment than baling grass, which can equate to $20-25/ton for labor and equipment costs.

He estimates that costs incurred to bale corn stalks are about $40-50.

“So, what are corn stalks worth as a feed?” asks Anderson. “One rule of thumb suggests the dollar feeding value is just a bit higher than straw. But feed value of stalks varies greatly, and cattle tend to waste more of it. If you bale the entire field you may only have 3-4% protein and less than 50% TDN. Harvest just the tailings in the two or three rows behind the combine and TDN increases to the lower fifties and protein to about 5%. But you should test to make sure.”

Anderson concludes that it may be a toss-up, based on the numbers, whether it’s worth the time, labor and expense to bale corn stalk bales.

Do you feed corn stalk bales or use them as bedding? What forages do you rely on for fall grazing? Does winter weather impact your decision-making for how long you graze and what you feed in the fall? 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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