Remove cattle from cornstalks when soils begin to thaw

There are few, if any, compaction issues with cattle grazing cornstalks during the winter.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

December 22, 2020

2 Min Read
Cattle grazing cornstalks in field.
GOOD GRAZING: There are few, if any, compaction issues with cattle grazing cornstalks in the winter. The only exceptions are around watering or feeding areas, and when soils begin to thaw in the spring or during wet and muddy periods. Curt Arens

In many portions of the Great Plains states through fall and into early winter, cattle have been able to glean crop residue without much interference from snow and ice. As winter goes on, the major considerations for cattle grazing cornstalks are extended periods of wet spring snow or rain and rising temperatures, which result in frozen soils beginning to thaw.

Daren Redfearn, Nebraska Extension forage and crop residue specialist, says that it is ideal to remove animals before the soils begin to thaw. “We have no observed compaction issues with cattle grazing cornstalks, as long as the soil is frozen,” Redfearn says.

“Soil compaction can be an issue any time of the year,” he explains. “In cropping systems, soil compaction has been attributed to restricted root growth and water infiltration. These impacts occur not only from cattle grazing cornstalks, but also harvesting equipment.”

Research on livestock grazing suggests little to no reduction in soybean plant populations following winter cornstalk grazing, without any apparent negative impacts on grain production, he adds.

“Minor surface compaction can result from grazing, especially during wet weather,” Redfearn acknowledges. “There can also be considerable compaction around watering and feeding areas and trailing in the field. However, grazing compaction usually disappears through the natural wetting and drying, and freezing and thawing processes that occur as we transition from winter to spring.”

So, the soil compaction that restricts root growth doesn’t carry through into the following growing season. And the heavier compacted areas usually are confined to less than 1% of the field.

Redfearn says that it is time to move cattle from cornstalks when few or no husks or leaves remain in the field. “During the late winter and early spring, this can also include times when there are extended periods of wet, muddy conditions,” he adds.

Learn more by contacting Redfearn at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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