Grazing Stunted or Poor Yielding Corn?

Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County

After yet another cold front has come through the state recently without yielding significant precipitation for much of Ohio’s pasture and crop lands, the frequency of calls coming into OSU Extension offices about feed alternatives have accelerated. Many of the calls I’ve received have related to the economics of bagging corn silage in an effort to salvage some feed value from the crop.

Bagging is certainly an affordable, and cost effective alternative for harvesting and storing high quality feed for later use. In fact, we have a couple of local cattlemen who prefer to save bagged corn silage each year for use during the late summer “pasture slump” while they stockpile grass for late fall and winter grazing.

However, simply grazing stunted or late replanted corn now while pastures rest is another alternative that has piqued interest locally. Field trials on grazing corn in Ohio have gone on since at least the mid 90’s. In fact, Jim Barrett, late Extension Agent from Washington County, did a lot of demonstration work on this alternative and exhibits the economics of it in this BEEF Cattle letter that was published April 22, 1998.

Grazing corn now, or at least soon, would not only allow abused and drought stricken pastures to heal more quickly when precipitation does return, but it would also save a more traditional feed such as hay to be fed this winter when it normally would be. Nitrates could be a problem with grazing but is not likely unless the animals eat the lower 1/3 of the stalk. In fact, since the entire stalk would be blended in, nitrates may actually be more of a problem if the corn is harvested and fed directly as green chop or silage. Also, keep in mind that greater corn feed yield would occur by letting the plants become more mature and harvesting it as corn silage a little later, however, the harvest and bagging process would come at an expense of approximately $10 per ton, as harvested. By comparison, the costs for grazing the same corn would amount to little more than the cost of some electric fencing – likely less than $1/ton.

If you are considering grazing corn, keep these thoughts in mind:

* For efficiency of harvest sake, strip grazing is a must.

* If you don’t like the idea of stringing portable electric fence through standing corn every day, consider bush hogging or green chopping back onto the ground one or two days supply at a time, and then move the fence across what’s been chopped.

* If there are concerns for high concentrations of nitrates, use a nitrate analytical procedure. Feeds can be tested for nitrate-nitrogen by most feed testing labs. The following labs, among others, can conduct the nitrate test: Holmes Labs (Millersburg OH) 1-800-344-1101, Dairy One (Ithaca NY) 1-800-344-2697, and CVAS (Maugansville MD) 1-800-282-7522. Field-testing kits are available from different suppliers including: Neogen 1-800-234-5333, Nitrate Elimination Co., Inc. 1-888-648-7283, and Nasco 1-800-558-9595

* Have your Crop Insurance adjuster estimate the yield for Insurance payment purposes BEFORE grazing.

* Check with your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office about the opportunity for claiming an LDP on the corn (availability of LDP depends on exactly what method is used for harvest and/or storage) and also the need for filing CCC forms 633 or 709.

* See this OSU Extension fact sheet on Grazing Corn:

There are also many acres of doublecrop and possibly late replanted soybeans throughout Ohio that may not create a harvestable crop. Certainly grazing and/or mechanically harvesting these are also a viable option for cattlemen. Keep in mind that you need to be in contact with your Crop Insurance Agent as well as FSA as you explore these options. The following article outlines considerations for utilizing soybeans as and alternative forage.