“The rest of the story” on harvesting and feeding crop residue!

Stan Smith, Fairfield County PA, OSU Extension

Last week in this publication we mentioned that with over 3 million acres of Ohio corn to harvest this fall, the opportunity is great for extending the brood cow grazing season well into fall and perhaps winter. While corn stover offers a considerable amount of digestible energy and fiber, it’s always good to review the palatability and practicality of utilizing crop residues resulting from corn or soybean harvest as a significant feed source.

Of the two, certainly soybean stubble bales must be viewed as a last resort unless you have a bale processor and feed it in limited quantities to “dilute” other high quality feeds in the ration. In fact, if your vision for utilizing soybean residue is simply placing bales of the “feed” in bale feeders, it’s probably not worth the time, fuel, wear on the machinery, and effort it takes to gather it. While it can have 35-40% TDN and nearly 4% protein, this is less than wheat straw (review the article linked here by Steve Boyles on feeding straw). Simply put, as soybeans increase in maturity they increase in lignin and lignin is not digested well in the rumen. Soybean stubble might make marginal bedding, but twigs gathered from trees in your yard might make comparable feed.

While corn stover has much more merit than soybean residue as a feed source and may be viewed as comparable to average grass hay, palatability of the stalks can be a problem. The husks and kernels of corn that fall during the process of harvest are the most palatable, and will be readily consumed. This lends itself very nicely to grazing as being by far the best method of harvesting corn residue, whereas, baling residue will likely cause loss of the kernels. Review the next article from Jeff McCutcheon and Dave Samples on grazing management of harvested corn fields.

When it comes to baling and transporting corn residue – and especially if you’re thinking about traveling very far with it – consumption versus waste becomes a consideration worth pondering. The husk, leaf, and any kernels in the bales, which will likely be a small percentage of each bale, will be readily consumed. If you have a bale processor, much of the stalk may be consumed also. However, if you’re simply placing corn residue bales in bale rings, the abundance of corn stalks which will remain after the more desirable parts of the bale are consumed will likely become bedding. If you must feed baled corn residue in this fashion, consider simply pushing the chopper or spreader on the back of the combine forward and dropping the residue that comes through the thresher in a “windrow” and then bale only these windrows. The resulting bales will be a much higher percentage of the palatable portions of the corn residue.

As you consider baling and transporting baled corn residue to your cows, carefully consider the harvest and transportation costs involved on a “per consumable and digestible ton of dry matter” basis. Simply feeding shelled corn may be more cost effective! In addition, review the article linked here from Robert Mullen on the fertilizer nutrient value you will be removing and possibly leaving in a pile at the bottom of your bale ring.