Utilizing cornstalks in beef cow diets

Don't wait, bale cornstalks within four weeks of harvest.

October 11, 2022

2 Min Read
10-11-22 corn stalk bales GettyImages-491376314.jpg
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Stored winter forages are a hot commodity for the cow herd, leaving many cattlemen considering harvesting more cornstalk bales for feed than normal. Get more out of this low-quality, cost effective forage resource by following good management practices during harvest, storage and when feeding.
Bale within four weeks of harvest to capture the highest potential quality. Due to an increased ratio of stalks to husk and leaves, the feed value of baled cornstalks is lower than if grazed. Although mowing and raking tend to make baling easier, this increases the amount of dirt and ash content which leads to feed palatability and animal health issues. For best results, consider disengaging the spreader on the back of the combine to make a windrow that is predominantlyRed Tractor With Green Baler Baling Cornstalks. leaf and husks resulting in a higher quality bale. Target 15% moisture content to avoid mold development which can be a feed quality and animal health concern.
Proper storage management is critical to avoid losing feed value on an already low-quality feedstuff. Storing bales inside or covered outside will minimize weathering effects and dry matter loss. Research by ISU found a 3% dry matter loss when cornstalk bales were stored underroof compared to 9% when stored outside uncovered. Deterioration rapidly increases following 120 days of storage outside as temperatures rise in early spring. To avoid the frustration of net wrap freezing to the ground and bales breaking, consider building a base to set cornstalk bales on. This might be a row of pallets, tires, lime or even unrolling cornstalks to help keep bales up off the ground. 
Before feeding, submit a representative forage test analyzing basic nutrients (protein, total digestible nutrients and fiber), and also consider testing for mycotoxins and ash content to flag potential issues while formulating the ration. For best results, stalks need to be ground - not offered free-choice - and include additional moisture in the ration to improve mixability and reduce sorting. Fiber digestibility tends to be a limiting factor when feeding cornstalks, so a good thumb rule is that a cow can eat about 0.9% of her empty body weight in neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Therefore, limit cornstalk inclusion in the ration to about 15 pounds or less for a 1400-pound cow.
Finally, contamination of bales from dirt is nearly impossible to avoid. Since iron is a major antagonist for other vital minerals, especially during gestation, ensure cows have continuous access to a mineral program while feeding cornstalks. Organic or chelated minerals, although more expensive, have increased bioavailability and are the best option when feeding highly antagonistic feedstuffs like cornstalks and distillers grains.

Related:Preparing for financial opportunity – Retention of heifers

Source: Iowa State University

Related:Preparing for financial opportunity – Retention of heifers

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