Corn as an Alternative to Hay for Gestating and Lactating Beef Cows

Steven C. Loerch, Animal Sciences Department, The Ohio State University

Corn grain is the least expensive harvested feed per unit of digestible energy available to producers in Ohio. The most common feed used for wintering cows is hay. This is despite the fact that hay costs 50 to 100% more than corn, per unit of energy. Corn priced at $3.00/bu is worth $107/ton. Because hay has only about half the energy value as corn grain, the breakeven price for hay on an energy basis would be approximately $54/ton. To add needed supplement to the corn brings the breakeven price to $62/ton. In many situations it is economically advantageous to use corn rather than hay to meet the energy requirements of cows.

Cows, and all other animals, require a certain amount of energy (calories) per day. If a low energy feed like hay is fed, cows can be full-fed. If corn is used to provide most of the energy, then intake has to be restricted so the animals don’t get fat. We have developed a limit-fed, corn-based nutrition program which has been tested with sheep and cattle. The procedures we used to meet the nutrient needs of gestating and lactating cows is outlined below. Some forage has to be fed to maintain a healthy rumen.

1. Feed 5 lbs first cutting hay, supplement and 12 lbs whole shelled corn (per cow basis). The protein and mineral supplement should be similar to that used for feedlot cattle fed a high-grain diet. An example is given below.

2. Feed corn whole. Ohio State research shows that whole corn works better than ground corn when daily hay intake is limited to less than five pounds.

3. Adjust corn intake to achieve desired weight and/or body condition score. Cows will need about 1% of their body weight during cold winter months and as they enter lactation.

4. When starting the program, take 7-10 days adjusting up the corn and decreasing hay to the 5 lb level. Make sure bunk space is adequate so all cows get their share and that cows are in a securely fenced area.

5. Example supplement (feed at 2 lb/cow/day):

Ground corn 32.1
Soybean meal 45.6
Urea 4.1
Limestone 7.8
Dicalcium phosphate 4.3
Trace mineral salt 3.2
Dyna K 2.3
Selenium premix (200 ppm) .4
Vitamin premix (Vit A, 15,000
IU/gram; Vitamin D, 1,500 IU/gram)
Rumensin 80 (192 mg Rumensin/hd/d) .12

NOTE: This supplement contains the following nutrients: Crude protein, 36%; Calcium, 3.76%; Phosphorus, 1.00%. If using a commercial supplement, feed according to bag instructions.

6. Example Start up:

Day 1 and 2 Feed 4 lbs whole shelled corn + 1 lb supplement + 12 lbs hay
Day 3 and 4 Feed 6 lbs corn + 1 lb supplement + 8 lbs hay
Day 5 and 6 Feed 8 lbs corn + 1 lb supplement + 5 lbs hay
Day 7 and 8 Feed 10 lbs corn + 1 lb supplement + 5 lbs hay
After Day 8 Feed 12 lbs corn + 1 lb supplement + 5 lbs hay; adjust corn based on cow condition(cold weather; pre- and post-calving). Adjust up or down 2 lbs if cows are getting too thin or too fat.

Supplement should be 30-40% protein (protein source doesn’t matter; NPN is ok)., 4-5% Calcium, and should contain Rumensin or Bovatec. Hay quality is not important; straw, stalks, or poor quality first cutting hay is fine.