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Corn stalk residue is good feed alternative

By Jennifer Carrico

With high feed costs many cattle producers are looking for alternative feed stuffs, according to University of Nebraska Beef Range Specialist Aaron Stalker.

"A viable feed option for fall and winter months in Nebraska and other Midwestern states is corn stalk grazing," he said during a session of Cattlemen's College held prior to the Nebraska Cattlemen's Convention in Kearney, Neb., recently.

With over 9 million acres of corn planted in Nebraska, there are many opportunities for cattle producers to take advantage of this low-cost feed option, Stalker said. However, he warns that the single most important consideration is stocking rate.

"Grazing is compatible with modern farming and it's good for the land. Only 39 percent of all corn acres in Nebraska are grazed and only 25 percent of corn residue is utilized," he said. "This is an abundant resource which producers need to take advantage of."

With nearly two times as much corn planted in Nebraska as soybeans, Stalker said there is a lot of corn stalk residue that is not being grazed.

When turning cows out on corn stalks, he said it is important for producers to know what kind of nutrients their animals are getting.

"Each part of a corn plant has a different nutritional value. Of course the grain has the highest amount of nutrients, but after that, other parts of the plant also provide needed protein and nutrients," he added.

When turned out in a field, the cows will obviously find the grain first and the quality of the diet is the best when they are eating the leftover grain. Monitoring the field is important to ensure the cows are getting proper nutrition. After they graze for the grain, they will then eat the husk, followed by the leaves and eventually they will eat the stems and cob.

Stocking rate becomes extremely important after the grain is all eaten. Stalker advises using the University of Nebraska corn stalk calculator to determine the economics of having cows graze corn stalk residue. The calculator is available at www.beef.unl.edu.

Differences in grazing length can also depend on if any residue was removed from baling corn stalks.

"It's very important to have the proper number of animal units based on the particular field. If a field is over grazed, cows can suffer and lose body condition because of high competition," he said.

Stalker said some farmers have been concerned in how allowing cows to graze on the corn field might affect yields for the following year.

"Our research shows no difference in yields no matter how much or little the fields are grazed," he said. "Obviously, when more residue is on the field, there is less evaporation of moisture and less irrigation is needed, but too much residue can be detrimental. So it is important to find the happy medium."

Additional benefits to grazing corn stalks is that it gets rid of volunteer corn for the next year, fewer nutrients are removed with grazing and depositing of manure helps add nutrients, and it can help prevent potential pathogens in continuous corn fields.

Stalker said it's important to take into consideration that genetically modified corn may have different nutrients than non GM varieties, weather conditions can make grazing conditions different and because of these and other variables, it may be important to supplement cows when they are grazing on corn stalks.

"It's always important to assess each field and each situation before turning cows out to graze corn stalks. After assessing the conditions, be sure to have the proper stocking rate in order to get optimum corn stalk grazing success," he said.

Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at jcarrico@hpj.com.



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