Grazing Corn Stalks
One of the largest expenses in a beef cattle production system is feed, specifically winter feed. In the upper Midwest with its short growing season for grasses and significant amount of snowfall received in a typical year, crop residue is the most cost-effective method to extend the grazing season.
Most farm business management personnel consider grazed crop residues to be among the lowest cost feed resources. This advantage is the result of the agronomic cost of production being already covered by the harvested crop. Figures from the University of Iowa put the cost per day to feed a beef cow on corn stalks at around $0.05 per day compared to a cost of $0.60 to $1.20 for hay.
The major expenses for grazing corn stalks would be fencing, water, and labor. Corn residue is one of the most commonly harvested and highest quality residue forages. Under most conditions, one acre of residue in a combined field can provide 30-45 days of grazing for a 1,200 lb pregnant cow. Cattle will first consume any grain remaining in the field. Then they will consume the more palatable leaves and husks and finally they will eat cobs and stalks.
Cattle placed into a large field may be at risk for digestive disorders such as bloat or acidosis as a result of eating large amounts of grain. Strip grazing, or limiting access to only a small portion of the field at a time will reduce the potential for issues of high grain consumption and will force the cows to consume the residual corn and the high and lower quality forage components.
As the nutritional quality of the corn residue decreases, producers will need to provide supplemental protein. Protein supplementation will help the cow’s rumen microbial population digest the forage and provide nutrients to the animal. Corn residue is quite low in most minerals so a well balanced vitamin and mineral mix should be provided free-choice.
Fencing can be an issue since in many areas fences have been allowed to go into a state of disrepair or have been removed entirely. Today’s modern low-impedance fencers will put out a sufficient charge that one wire will keep cattle in as long as they are not short of feed. A two wire fence will keep cattle in as a temporary exterior fence but producers need to be aware that a two-wire fence is not considered a legal fence. Should the cattle get out the owner may be faced with a greater liability issue than if he had a legal fence in place.
Deer can be a problem and will cause some fence breakage unless a high tensile fence is used.
Cattle on fields that are not yet frozen can result in some soil compaction. For fields that are pastured prior to freezing there is a potential for a small reduction in subsequent soybean yield in a no-till system, but there was no difference in yield in conventional tillage systems. Grazing corn stalks offers beef producers a lower cost program for over wintering their beef herd.