Grazing Harvested Corn Residue, a Feed Alternative

Stan Smith, PA, OSU Extension, Fairfield County

Not only is the lack of hay quality a concern this year, but many are suggesting that the equivalent of at least one entire cutting of volume has been lost due to the weather. Now with dry weather having crept across much of the state throughout August and early September, pasture growth is also suffering. Perhaps getting the calves weaned and allowing the cows to be placed onto lower quality feed may offer some relief. With Ohio farmers expecting to harvest 3.5 million acres of corn this fall, the crop residue that remains creates the potential for the cow herd’s feed supply to be extended well into fall.

Corn crop residue is practical for feeding dry, gestating beef cows in mid gestation providing they have average or better body condition. Managed correctly, one acre of corn residue can yield up to 60 animal unit grazing days (60 days of grazing for a 1000 pound animal).

Grazing “efficiency” will determine exactly how much feed is realized from corn residue and how long an area can be grazed. Moveable electric fencing can increase utilization up to 50% by allowing the cattleman to control the amount of area grazed thus, preventing the cattle from either selective grazing or trampling many of the leaves or husks. Strip grazing the cows will also reduce the potential for acidosis in situations where there may have been excessive field losses of grain. Simply dumping the cows onto the entire corn field will be least efficient but will allow more residues to remain on the field over the winter for cover. Cattle will select and eat the grain first, then the husk and leaves, and finally the cobs and stalks.

Fields containing corn residues should be grazed soon after harvest for optimum quality, and fields with poor drainage or compaction problems should not be grazed for extended periods of time. Producers with a Conservation Plan should check with NRCS to be certain that the grazing of corn stalks does not violate the Plan.

If corn stalk fields are not presently fenced, temporary electric fencing is an economical alternative. Often times harvested corn fields can be encircled with a single strand of poly or high tensile wire supported with fiberglass posts for less than $10 per acre. Even if a fence charger must be purchased to allow the grazing of corn residue, 30 or more days per acre of feed may be provided a brood cow at a cost of under 33 cents/head per day. And, of course, the materials purchased to provide this temporary boundary may be reused from year to year, thus, making the “annual” cost of ownership even less.

For more information on grazing corn residue see the OSU Extension Fact Sheet “Grazing Corn Residue”.

For answers to your questions regarding the proper construction and use of electric fence, see this “Electric Fence Review” article by Rory Lewandowski, published here previously entitled.