Planning Ahead: There is Still Time to produce Quality Feed for the Winter

Chris Penrose, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Morgan County

We are starting to get an idea of how much stored feed we will have for the winter and in many circumstances, the quality will be low. Even if our livestock get plenty of hay this winter, the quality may be so low that the hay cannot meet their nutritional needs. There may need to be supplementation. We have a couple options: we can purchase supplements, utilize harvested crop residue, or we still grow some crops for fall and winter supplementation.

One product many producers buy is protein tubs. While the animals really like these products, it does not address their most pressing need: energy. The most commonly used product used to supply energy is corn. Adding some corn or a by-product with similar energy to a diet can help balance nutritional needs.

If your animals are in good condition, consider feeding your poorest hay first to the sheep and goats with the lowest nutritional needs. You could also stretch out your pastures as growth slows with the lowest quality hay so they may still get some high quality pasture and poor quality hay.

Another option that is often overlooked is to feed corn stalks. According to Rory Lewandowski, Wayne County ANR Extension Educator, it is estimated that about 50% of the total corn plant yield remains in the field after the harvest. Most of this weight is the stalk but there are also leaves, husks, some corn grain and cobs. As a guideline, figure that for each bushel of shell corn produced there will be about 50 lbs. of crop residue. The amount of corn grain left on the field typically averages around 3 bushels per acre. That figure can vary depending upon combine adjustments and the condition of the crop. While sheep and goats may not eat the stalks, they can graze the leaves, husks, and eat the corn on the ground.

Use of temporary electric fence can provide a flexible and economical means for livestock to harvest corn residue. An added benefit is the nutrients returned to the field through the manure. The best use of corn residue is obtained when livestock graze the field as soon as possible after harvest. A good rule of thumb is that corn residue can make suitable feed for between 30 – 60 days after harvest depending upon weather conditions. Generally, one acre of corn residue can provide enough feed for between 45 – 60 days for one animal unit (1000 lbs.).

Another inexpensive option for quality feed is to stockpile predominately grass pastures or hay fields for late fall and winter grazing. Adding 50 lbs. of nitrogen per acre to a field that has been recently grazed or clipped and left alone to grow for grazing later in the fall or winter can increase yield by a ton and can increase crude protein by 2 percentage points. Fescue works best to stockpile, and other grasses will work but they need to be grazed before the end of the year. Fescue will maintain quality later into the winter.

Finally, there are still crops we can grow. Brassicas (turnips, rape, kale, etc.) can be planted in late July and August. Other crops we can grow in our region to provide additional quality and quantity for grazing are cereal rye and oats. These crops can have good protein and energy levels. According to Stan Smith, OSU Extension, Fairfield County, if your primary need for forage is next spring, then your best option is cereal rye. It will grow much like wheat but reach about 6 to perhaps 10 inches in height yet this fall, but after going dormant this winter will give most of its abundant growth in the spring. It’s better than wheat because it is a little more cold tolerant, growing a little longer into fall, and breaking dormancy a little earlier in the spring than wheat. Also, there are Hessian fly issues that must be dealt with if wheat is planted before the fly free date. Although producing less tonnage than oats yet this calendar year, the cereal rye growth one could graze this fall would be very high quality feed . . . much higher in protein than oats likely would be.

If your primary need for forage is yet this year, then oats are a better option. They do not need to go dormant in order to elongate and provide abundant growth. Instead, when planted in mid to late summer they will reach maximum height and growth in about 75+/- days after planting. By planting them after the summer solstice, they will generally remain vegetative and not make seed. Sometimes oats will push out what appears to be seed heads, but the hulls are typically hollow. In addition, oats don’t need to be chemically killed in order to plant a row crop next spring as rye would be. You can also plant rye and oats together. This will provide additional yield in the fall from the oats and high quality feed late winter/early spring

In conclusion, if feed supplies are short or poor quality, there is still time to produce additional quality feed and strategically feed poor quality forages. Supplementing grain, feeding poor quality hay to livestock with the lowest nutritional needs, utilizing inexpensive corn stalks and stockpiled grass, and/or planting high quality oats and cereal rye can provide many viable options to provide the quality and quantity of feed needed for our animals this winter.