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Get the most from grazing corn stalks

According to Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, and Rick Rasby, UNL professor of animal science, grazing corn stalks during winter has many benefits. Most importantly, it can save as much as a dollar a day per cow compared to feeding expensive hay.

The way you manage grazing of stalks can have a big effect on its success. For instance, maybe you have a goal of feeding as little protein supplement as possible while winter grazing. Then you must make sure you have enough acres so your stocking level can be light enough so cattle can select the higher quality plant parts to eat. Whenever the grain and husks are gone you should move them to a new field.

Another strategy might be to stretch winter stalks as far as possible. In that case, restricting animal access to small areas at a time by strip grazing until nearly all the available stalks are gone might be best. Or, you may wish to use stalks only as a filler to keep cows satisfied while you limit feed corn, distiller's grains, or other more nutrient dense feeds. In this case high stocking levels and unrestricted access might be best.

Whatever your strategy, consider carefully what kind of nutrition animals are getting from the stalk pasture so you neither underfeed nor overfeed expensive supplements.

Be sure to provide salt, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A free choice at all times. And once all the grain is gone, cows need about half a pound per day of an all natural protein to meet nutrient needs.

Stalk season is here. Make wise decisions to use them best.

Question: Our farming operation is 100 percent no-till. Do cows on cornstalks need to be removed during wet soil conditions to prevent compaction? Will the benefits of the hoof action help breakdown the residue and would this outweigh the negative effects? If there is compaction, can it be corrected with minimum tillage or possibly minimized with a turnip or tillage radish cover crop?

Answer: We have conducted research on eastern Nebraska soils on the impact of cows grazing crop residue in the winter and the impact on subsequent yield. Our research would say that there is no impact on subsequent yield. There are likely enough cold and warm days (freeze followed by thaw) in the winter that there is heaving of the ground and compaction is not an issue. If cows were hayed in a bale feeder in a stalk field, then there may be compaction around the hay feeder.

On many Nebraska soils, we would not suggest to continue to graze stalks when the thaw begins to come out of the ground and the conditions are muddy. For more information on stalk grazing, go to http://beef.unl.edu/beefreports/200404.shtml.

Using recommended stalking rates for crop residues, there will be plenty of residue left in the field. For a corn stalk grazing calculator, go to http://beef.unl.edu/learning/cornStalkGrazingCalc.shtml.

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