– Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, Associate Extension Professor, University of Kentucky
This fall many producers are questioning if they will have enough hay to get through to spring. Tight hay supplies are making it difficult to find hay as well. Several folks were asking about baling soybeans that had empty pods and Dr. Teutsch addressed this in a previous article (http://news.ca.uky.edu/article/uk-offers-considerations-grazing-harvesting-drought-stressed-soybeans). Now questions regarding options for corn stalks are beginning to surface. Stalks can be an option but you need to consider a few things. The highest quality forage portions of corn crop residues are the leaves and husks. Residual corn left in the field is not going to be captured in the bales which lowers the feeding value compared to grazing the field. The cob and stalk are lower in digestibility than the husk and leaves. The stalk can comprise the majority of the bale. Protein levels can be variable in the 3-6% range which is insufficient for cattle. Protein supplementation will be needed when feeding stalks. The energy or Total Digestible Nutrient (TDN) level in corn stalk bales can also be variable ranging from 48-58% depending on the stalk to leaf/husk proportions. It is important that bales are tested for nutrient content. Stalks can retain a lot of moisture making baling and storing bales a challenge.
If corn stalks are being considered, they are best utilized when processed. Feeding stalk bales as one would hay bales in a ring feeder can lead to significant waste. I’ve seen as much as 50% of the bales left behind as cattle sort through bales consuming leaves, husks and the upper portion of the stalk leaving the coarse bottom half of the stalk. The best option for using baled corn crop residues for feed is having the bales processed or flail chopping the residue in the field to aid in drying before baling. This will improve utilization and allow for mixing in a total mixed ration (TMR). Processing the bales with a bale processor and feeding into a bunk is also an option rather than a TMR.
Corn stalks are best used in dry, mid-gestating cows. An example of using corn stalks for dry, gestating cows would be 15 lb of corn stalks, 1.5 gallons of condensed distillers solubles (distillers syrup) and 2 lb of soybean hulls plus minerals to meet requirements. This would be for cattle in good body condition and no environmental stress such as cold or mud. As cattle progress further into gestation, fetal nutrient needs will require additional supplementation. Environmental stress such as cold, rainy conditions and mud will also increase supplementation needs. Consult a nutritionist to balance the ration as syrup alone will not be able to meet needs as excessive fat intake from syrup could reduce fiber digestion and energy yield.
Significant energy and protein supplementation will be needed for lactating, fall calving cows. Special considerations would be needed for lactating cows and producers should work with a nutritionist to ensure nutrient needs are met. Hay would be preferred for lactating cows. Corn stalks may be worked into the diet on a limited basis to stretch hay supplies with adequate supplementation.
In summary, corn stalks may be able to replace a portion of hay needs this winter. Be sure to work with your nutritionist to develop a feeding program that meets nutritional requirements. Additionally, don’t over pay for corn stalks as their nutrient content will require additional supplementation increasing daily feeding costs. Contact your county extension office for additional information.