– Steve Loerch, Professor, Animal Sciences, OARDC, The Ohio State University
Much of the US and Canada is struggling with drought conditions and feed shortages that result from extended dry weather. Recently, the OSU Extension Beef Team received a call from a Nebraska rancher looking for an opportunity east of the Mississippi to market half of his 800 head cow herd due to feed shortage. Also, I’ve been made aware that Alberta will be moving up to 500,000 cows out of the Province for similar reasons this fall – mostly in boxes.
Many Ohio cattlemen are experiencing similar concerns this year. However, unlike some other parts of the country, here in Ohio we have an affordable alternative feeding strategy to wintering cows on hay. At our OARDC research facilities we have had great success limit-feeding brood cows a corn based diet during the winter.
My recommendation to Ohio cattlemen experiencing forage shortages (based on 14 years of feeding corn based diets to cows in the winter), is to feed whole shelled corn at 1% of the cows body weight, feed 5 lbs of forage, and feed a “feedlot type” supplement to meet protein, vitamin, and mineral needs. The corn intake must be adjusted upward as energy requirements increase (ie, last third of gestation, lactation, or due to cold). The purpose of the forage is to give the cows something to chew on (all the usual feedlot type reasons; stimulate rumination, prevent ruminitis, keep cows on feed, etc.). Although I have newer tried straw, my recommendation is that forage quality is a non-issue. They will eat everything you put in front of them in this limit feeding system. A low cost, poor quality forage is ideal.
Our data show that you can winter gestating cows on about 14 lbs of corn, 4 lbs of roughage, and a supplement with no negative effects on performance. If corn is priced at $2.50/bu, the break even value for hay would be about $50/ton.
You will find more details on my recommendation for feeding corn to cows in the Library at http://agnr.osu.edu/sites/agnr/files/imce/pdfs/Beef/limit.pdf
Cattlemen can also limit feed corn for replacement heifers using a similar procedure. If hay is scarce or expensive, cattlemen can grow cattle on a corn based diet using a limit feeding system. The amount of corn you feed them would be determined by your target rate of gain. In a situation when raising replacement heifers, I would recommend gains of about 1.5 to 2 lbs/day. To achieve these gains feed the following:
1.7% of calf body weight as concentrate (whole shelled corn plus a feedlot supplement according to bag instructions) plus 2 lb/head/day of hay
For example: If your calves average 400 lbs, feed 6.3 lbs of whole shelled corn +.5 lbs of commercial 50% protein supplement + 2lbs of hay
If your calves average 500 lbs, feed 8 lbs of whole shelled corn +.5 lbs of commercial 50% protein supplement + 2lbs of hay
If your calves average 600 lbs, feed 9.7 lbs of whole shelled corn +.5 lbs of commercial 50% protein supplement + 2lbs of hay
If your calves average 700 lbs, feed 11.4 lbs of whole shelled corn +.5 lbs of commercial 50% protein supplement+ 2lbs of hay
It will be an advantage if you have enough bunk space for all calves to eat at once. Adjust grain intake every 2 weeks based on expected increase in body weight at your target ADG (21-28 lbs gain every 14 days for 1.5-2 lb/d ADG).This means every 14 days, increase corn Intake by about .4lbs/head.