Utilize crop residues to lower production costs | TSLN.com

Utilize crop residues to lower production costs

NDSU Beef Cattle Extension Specialist

Depending on the area of the region in which you live, a variety of crop residues offer opportunities to lower production costs, rest pastures, and extend the grazing season, making them an attractive forage choice for many cow calf producers. In this week’s column, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the different types of crop residues in the region and some pointers on using them.

The major limitations to the use of any of the crop residues discussed below are fencing and water issues. In some cases, the volume of material (e.g. corn residue) may be enough to warrant the use of electric fencing; while in other cases, the limited amount of material (e.g. soybean stubble) may preclude the use of fencing, particularly if fields are not already fenced and adjacent to a water source.

Corn stalks. Corn residue is probably a more appropriate term for this residue source as it contains much more than the stalk of the plant. In fact, the stalk is one of the least valuable components of this material. Corn residue contains leaves, stalks, husks, cobs and downed ears. With today’s modern varieties, ear drop is less of a problem for corn farmers. As the downed ears previously represented an important source of nutrients for grazing cattle, this has resulted in a somewhat lower nutrient content in the field following harvest. In terms of nutrition, the husks and leaves are the most valuable part of the residue. Cobs are actually fairly digestible, but low in protein. See Table 1 for a complete list of nutrient contents of the various components of corn residue.

The amount of corn residue available in any particular field is related to the amount of corn produced. The greater the yield, the greater the amount of residue that remains in the field for grazing. Data from the University of Nebraska indicates that irrigated corn fields generally produce about twice the amount of residue compared to dryland corn fields.

Depending on the amount of ears, corn residue generally provides enough nutrients for dry cows to maintain, and in some cases gain, body weight. Small amounts of snow cover (5 inches or less) will generally not prevent cattle grazing.

Soybean residue. Limited amounts of residue (leaves, pods, stalks) remain following soybean harvest. The material available for grazing is generally low in digestibility and protein. Research data indicates cattle performance is generally lower when grazing soybean residue compared to corn residue.

Recommended Stories For You

Small grain stubble. Stubble from wheat, barley, and oats is of limited nutritional value. However, regrowth from grain which passed through the combine and from sprouted weed seeds makes for reasonably good fall grazing. Straw and chaff remaining after small grain harvest is generally low in protein (typically three to five percent crude protein) and digestibility (40 to 44 percent total digestible nutrients for straw). This limits the usefulness of this material to animals with relatively low nutrient requirements.

Sunflower stubble. Of the sunflower residue present in the field, the head contains the most nutrients. The stalk is relatively low in nutrient content and the leaves typically drop with frost and wind in the fall, limiting how much they can be counted on as a source of nutrients. Sunflower seeds are high in protein and energy due to the fat content. Consequently, fields with greater amounts of downed heads represent an opportunity for a highly nutritious grazing program.

Sugar beet residue. In most modern sugar beet production systems, the amount of top material remaining after beets have been harvested is limited. However, research indicates beet tops can be grazed. Some reports indicate cattle may have bouts of diarrhea when grazing beet tops.

Dry edible bean residue. Dry edible bean residue can be grazed following bean harvest. The residue typically has higher levels of protein than cereal grain residue and is more digestible.

Field pea, chickpea, and lentil residue. These legume residues can be grazed. However, the amount of material remaining following harvest is somewhat limited.

Depending on the area of the region in which you live, a variety of crop residues offer opportunities to lower production costs, rest pastures, and extend the grazing season, making them an attractive forage choice for many cow calf producers. In this week’s column, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the different types of crop residues in the region and some pointers on using them.

The major limitations to the use of any of the crop residues discussed below are fencing and water issues. In some cases, the volume of material (e.g. corn residue) may be enough to warrant the use of electric fencing; while in other cases, the limited amount of material (e.g. soybean stubble) may preclude the use of fencing, particularly if fields are not already fenced and adjacent to a water source.

Corn stalks. Corn residue is probably a more appropriate term for this residue source as it contains much more than the stalk of the plant. In fact, the stalk is one of the least valuable components of this material. Corn residue contains leaves, stalks, husks, cobs and downed ears. With today’s modern varieties, ear drop is less of a problem for corn farmers. As the downed ears previously represented an important source of nutrients for grazing cattle, this has resulted in a somewhat lower nutrient content in the field following harvest. In terms of nutrition, the husks and leaves are the most valuable part of the residue. Cobs are actually fairly digestible, but low in protein. See Table 1 for a complete list of nutrient contents of the various components of corn residue.

The amount of corn residue available in any particular field is related to the amount of corn produced. The greater the yield, the greater the amount of residue that remains in the field for grazing. Data from the University of Nebraska indicates that irrigated corn fields generally produce about twice the amount of residue compared to dryland corn fields.

Depending on the amount of ears, corn residue generally provides enough nutrients for dry cows to maintain, and in some cases gain, body weight. Small amounts of snow cover (5 inches or less) will generally not prevent cattle grazing.

Soybean residue. Limited amounts of residue (leaves, pods, stalks) remain following soybean harvest. The material available for grazing is generally low in digestibility and protein. Research data indicates cattle performance is generally lower when grazing soybean residue compared to corn residue.

Small grain stubble. Stubble from wheat, barley, and oats is of limited nutritional value. However, regrowth from grain which passed through the combine and from sprouted weed seeds makes for reasonably good fall grazing. Straw and chaff remaining after small grain harvest is generally low in protein (typically three to five percent crude protein) and digestibility (40 to 44 percent total digestible nutrients for straw). This limits the usefulness of this material to animals with relatively low nutrient requirements.

Sunflower stubble. Of the sunflower residue present in the field, the head contains the most nutrients. The stalk is relatively low in nutrient content and the leaves typically drop with frost and wind in the fall, limiting how much they can be counted on as a source of nutrients. Sunflower seeds are high in protein and energy due to the fat content. Consequently, fields with greater amounts of downed heads represent an opportunity for a highly nutritious grazing program.

Sugar beet residue. In most modern sugar beet production systems, the amount of top material remaining after beets have been harvested is limited. However, research indicates beet tops can be grazed. Some reports indicate cattle may have bouts of diarrhea when grazing beet tops.

Dry edible bean residue. Dry edible bean residue can be grazed following bean harvest. The residue typically has higher levels of protein than cereal grain residue and is more digestible.

Field pea, chickpea, and lentil residue. These legume residues can be grazed. However, the amount of material remaining following harvest is somewhat limited.