This Pennsylvania beef producer grazes corn to fill in poor grazing periods in late summer.
Brian Mohn counts on corn to fill in the gap for his beef cattle when his cool-season pastures peter out in mid to late August.
“I needed to find something to carry my cow/calf herd through the summer slump,”explains Mohn, who, along with his wife, Karen, manages Papa Farm, a 350-acre commercial hay and beef operation near Bethel, PA. “I was reluctant to take high-priced hay out of the barn to feed my cows in late summer. It makes more sense to sell that hay to the local horse and dairy markets and grow something else for my own cattle.”
With input from his county agents, Mohn has learned the finer points of grazing cow/calf pairs on a small field of corn during the summer slump. While the cattle only graze the corn for about three weeks, average season-long calf gains are 3 lbs./head/day. This year he grazed 60 animal units, down from a high of 130.
“Grazing annuals, such as corn, can be beneficial in certain situations,” says Clyde Myers. He's an Extension agent for Penn State University in Berks County, who, along with his co-worker Mena Hautau, has assisted Mohn. “If producers have limited acreage for grazing, they need the extra production of forages in mid- to late-summer when cool-season grasses slow down. It also gives them a measure of safety in case of dry weather because they'll have an additional source of feed to rely on.”
The Extension agents have cooperated with dairy and beef producers to research the benefits of corn grazing and gotten positive results. “When cows grazed the corn, their production stayed the same,” notes Myers. “However, there was probably more corn wasted with the dairy versus the beef cattle.”
Mohn plants wheat and rye in the fall on his “corn field” and grazes it before winter. In the spring it's grazed once or twice and then burned down with 2,4-D. He plants the corn in early May with a no-till grain drill on 15-in. centers and shoots for a dense population of 40,000 plants/acre.
Mohn prefers no-till versus conventional tillage methods to save money. “If I plowed and disked the field, my costs would be way too high.”
He starts grazing the cattle during the latter part of August when the corn is at the pre-tassel stage. “By then I'm really running short on regrowth on my pastures.”
About 10 a.m. every day he gives the cattle access to a 25-ft. by 300-ft. strip of fresh corn using a portable electric wire. Next to the corn is a small pasture of alfalfa-orchard grass pasture that the cattle also can eat.
“They have their choice between the alfalfa-orchard grass pasture or the corn, but normally they go into the corn first to eat and then head to the other side to loaf around and chew their cuds,” he says.
Giving animals access to both types of feed is important, says Myers. “Then you're not changing the ration as drastically. There's some continuity in the animals' diets.”
Mohn drives his four-wheeler down the field every morning to clear a path. Then, he comes back and strings the wire through the path. “That knocks some stalks down just enough so that they can see the electric wire. I keep it good and hot, so they respect it.”
By mid-September, when the night temperatures are cooler and his pastures are starting to become more productive, the corn is gone.Mohn has used grazing-specific and silage hybrids. While he notes that both types are good, he prefers the silage corn because it's more reasonably priced. “We've analyzed samples from both types for nutrient content and the grazing corn had a little bit higher sugar content, but in my book that benefit didn't outweigh the higher cost.”
Loose manure hasn't been a problem. “I've seen it a lot looser on lush, grass pasture than it is on the corn, which was contrary to what I originally thought.”
While he's pleased with his program, he notes a disadvantage: “Timing when you're going to need the corn is probably the hardest thing to predict because the amount of rainfall we get changes. If it's not too dry here, the pastures stay productive longer.”
For more information, contact Mohn at 610/488-1437.
Ann Behling is a North Platte, NE-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to sister publication Hay & Forage Grower.
Sorghum-sudangrass is a good option for battling summer slump, says Clyde Myers.
“In some ways, it beats corn,” adds the Penn State University Extension agent. “It can be grazed several times versus just once for corn.”
It has other benefits, too. “We had a drought two years ago, and the only thing that grew was sorghum-sudangrass. That's a big advantage — it holds up well under dry conditions, whereas corn needs moisture. Plus the seed's cheaper,” he says.
Myers advises seeding sorghum-sudangrass in early to mid-May. “It will really come on strong when the weather warms up.”
Depending on the weather, it can be regrazed every 20-30 days. Once the temperature hits 50° F, however, usually in September — “it shuts right down,” he says.
If grazed when it's under 30-in. tall, the forage is fairly nutritious with crude protein percentages in the high teens, Myers says. While nitrate and prussic acid poisoning haven't been a problem if sorghum-sudangrass is grazed this young, he says, caution should be taken when grazing it after rain following periods of dry weather.
He also encourages beef producers to continue to graze some other pasture species while they're grazing sorghum-sudangrass. “Then, they're not changing the rations as drastically,” Myers says.