University of Illinois Beef Extension Educator Travis Meteer says cattle farmers continue to experience the pinch of elevated feed costs. Despite what appears to be a more bountiful harvest compared to last year – he says hay prices have remained at record levels, corn co-product feeds have been slow to lower in price and land values and pasture rents are still elevated. The reasons hay prices have remained at record levels – Meteer says – are depleted inventories caused by last year’s drought, winter-kill issues early this year and a slow start to the season due to a wet spring. He says competition for acreage from corn and soybeans also contributed to expensive forage costs. He expects forage prices to remain elevated into 2014 – which means cattlemen need to look to alternative forages. According to Meteer – nearby cornfields can offer the most economical alternative to high-priced forage. He says the best way to use a harvested cornfield is to allow cattle to graze it. Meteer says the cost of grazing cornstalks is low because the cows graze and harvest their own feed and because all costs to produce the plant for grain production are attributed to the row-crop operation. Even with the cost of a temporary fence and water – Meteer says grazing cornstalks is more economical than feeding high-priced hay.
Meteer says grazing stalks can also benefit subsequent crops. He says cows grazing cornstalks for 60 days will remove approximately 30 to 40-percent of the residue. Residue buildup has been a well-documented problem in many corn-on-corn fields with new hybrids. Cows deposit nutrients back on the field in the form of manure and they reduce volunteer corn – considered a weed and a yield robber in soybean fields.
Producers should scout fields for ear drop or downed corn areas – Meteer says – as a significant amount of grain loss in fields can cause acidosis or founder in animals. He says fields with these areas will need careful management via strip grazing or completely fencing the problem areas out. Also of note – many newer combines are equipped with mowers on the head to reduce residue buildup. If planning to graze the cornstalks – Meteer says it’s recommended to turn the mowers off. Mowing reduces particle size and speeds up degradation of the cornstalk. Mowed residue will break down faster – meaning less will be available for animals after a few weeks.
Meteer explains that healthier corn plants compared to 2012 should yield a good amount of residue available for harvest. Using an equation developed at the University of Nebraska – a field that averages 150 bushels per acre yields 2,162 pounds of leaf and husk. Only 50-percent of the 2,162 pounds is available for the animal – thus 1,081 pounds of dry matter husk and leaf per acre are available as feed. A 13-hundred pound cow consumes 884 pounds of dry matter per month. At 150 bushels an acre – approximately one acre of cornstalks is needed to feed the cow for 30 days. To feed the same cow on cornstalks for 60 days – 1.5 to two acres would be needed.