Corn stalk grazing
October 30, 2009
It appears old man winter is coming early this year. Generally, cows are in good condition, many have calves weaned and most have good fall grazing, so hopefully they will go through this storm in good shape. Those that are grazing cows in pine trees have some concern for cows consuming pine needles causing abortions. Research at Fort Keogh, MT shows that cows only need to consume around three pounds to cause abortions, however, fortunately they do not usually consume needles especially in mild weather so hopefully no problems will occur.
This weather has also caused a lot of concern for the corn farmers across the country by delaying harvest, causing some increase in corn price which has put down pressure on calf prices plus for those that want to graze corn stalks, they will have to wait until it is harvested. With the added moisture on the fields, I am concerned that the stalks field utilization will not be as good as normal because much of the better quality feed (dropped ears and white husks) will be tramped into the ground.
If the ground freezes, although more problems will occur such as keeping water open, plus cow maintenance will go up, it will probably provide better stalk grazing conditions. I realize we write about stalk grazing each year so the following will be an old hat for many but it seems each year we get calls concerning how many acres will be needed for a cow herd. In cases where not enough land is committed we then tend to overgraze and often lose cow condition. Ranchers that place cows with farmers for the winter should ask what guidelines they use for making grazing decisions if they have not worked with the farmer in the past. Also detailed plans for cow care and supplemental feed and who pays for what, especially in cases of extreme snow fall, should be decided before shipping cows.
As a general rule one acre of stalks will be adequate grazing for one mature cow for about 45 days. If for example it is planned to graze cows from Dec. 1 to March 1, or a 90-day period, one should budget for around two acres per cow. This number will vary with the amount of corn left in the field, amount of other grazing such as ditch banks, plus ground conditions such as muddy conditions.
The need and level of supplement continues to be debated and unfortunately controlled research data with mature cows in this area is limited. Some factors to consider when deciding to supplement is the condition of the cows when entering stalks and the need to gain weight, the age of the cow, the amount of corn left in the field and of course the cost of the supplement delivered to the cows. In general there is agreement, a protein supplement will improve cow performance especially if very little corn is available, however the greater question is the economic return. In general, calculation would indicate a mature cow would need between .2 to .4 pounds of crude supplemental protein per head per day for good performance. In other words, one to two pounds of a 20 percent protein would meet and perhaps exceed their needs and give some weight gain.
Supplements can be feed daily, or the equivalent daily amounts two or three times per week. Supplements vary considerably in price, which may be based on quality and labor requirements to feed. Alfalfa is often the least cost per unit of protein however usually the highest labor to deliver and some waste is experienced.
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Some concern has been raised by crop consultants and farmers that grazing stalks will decrease yields on next year’s crops. Controlled research at the UNL Agriculture Research and Development Center near Mead, NE shows that grazing stalks had no adverse effect on subsequent soybean yields. That site has much heavier soils than most soils in the high plains areas plus higher rainfall so if yields are not affected in eastern Nebraska it is doubtful if any adverse effects would be found in the high plains area. Currently UNL Beef Specialist Dr. Aaron Stocker is conducting similar work at a new research unit near Big Springs (western) Nebraska. Stay tuned for results.
Hope you make it through the snow in great shape. Just think of the great green grass next spring.