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Utilize Corn Stalks for Grazing

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Corn residue can serve many purposes on cow/calf operations in the Upper Midwest. And, it may be one of the most underutilized resources cow/calf producers have access to, explained SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist Taylor Grussing.

"Producers looking for ways to decrease feed costs during winter months should utilize corn stalks as a grazing resource for mid-gestation cows," Grussing said. "The combination of dropped ears, grain, husks and leaves provide an adequate ration for spring calving cows, and can be managed to maintain body condition or even add weight with supplementation."

Although the amount of residue per acre is correlated to pounds of grain produced, Grussing said the most palatable portion of residue, the husks and leaves, make up approximately 15 pounds of every bushel of corn.

"So if a field yields 150 bushels-per-acre, there would be 2,250 pounds of husks and leaves available for grazing," she said.

Similar to pasture, grazing recommendations of take half, leave half still stand.

"After trampling, wind and waste disappearance, etc., there should be enough residue remaining on one acre to support a 1300-pound cow for a little more than 30 days," Grussing said.

Managing residue for grazing

Managing residue grazing should always start with a walk through the field to identify any spills or large amounts of grain that need to be removed prior to grazing in order to decrease risk of rumen upset.

In addition, Grussing reminds producers to examine fences and ensure there are adequate water resources.

"Cross fencing can be utilized to facilitate strip grazing which will provide a more balanced ration for cattle over the winter," she said.

Grussing added that if residue is not sectioned off, quality of the ration will decrease over the winter.

"Cattle will seek out corn first, then go to husks, leaves and then less digestible cobs and stalks," she said.

As the grain disappears, Grussing encourages producers to supplement cattle with a protein source to maintain proper rumen function and avoid decreased performance.

"And, always provide mineral and salt to cattle while grazing stalks," she said.

Grazing agreements

Grazing corn stalk residue can reduce feed costs for cow/calf producers, and save crop farmers time and money by decreasing time spent running equipment over the field to remove excess residue.

When establishing a grazing agreement between cattle and crop operators, Grussing said a good place to start is by answering a few questions:

  • When will grazing begin and end?
  • What is the stocking rate?
  • What is fencing and water availability?
  • Who is responsible for management of fence/water/cattle?

"There is no one size fits all rental agreement for grazing corn residue as it will vary by the needs of both parties," Grussing said.

She added that recently, if water and fence are available, the cattle operator will pay anywhere from 50 cents to $1 per-head-per-day for corn stalks based on yield.

However, if no fence or water access is provided, a lower rate is realized to account for the cattle operator's labor inputs.

"Corn residue can also be rented on a per-acre basis, adjusted similarity for fence, water and labor," Grussing explained. "This method eliminates the stocking rate question, but has some risk as potential, heavy snowfall may limit the amount of residue that can be removed."

Regardless of snowfall, Grussing said grazing residue should cease before the ground thaws or excessive moisture is experienced to avoid major soil disturbance and extra compaction.

Similar agreements can be made when grazing cover crops in the spring or fall; however, the value of cover crops will differ based on quality, quantity and input costs.

For more information on grazing corn stalks or rental agreements, contact an SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist or Livestock Business Management Field Specialist.