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Grazing crop residues

Fri, Oct 21st, 2011
Posted in Agriculture

Now that corn harvest is well underway, I have started to see beef cows grazing harvested corn fields. I started to say cornstalks, but 12% of the residue is husk, 27% is leaf, and 12% cob. So there is much more than just stalks, and I'm not counting any dropped ears of corn that are gleaned. Nutritionally, the leaf and husk both have high digestibility.

Iowa State University Beef Cattle data indicates that for each acre of corn stalks grazed, approximately ½ ton of hay will be saved. Crop residues are normally the least expensive feed source, because most expenses are charged against the row crop enterprise.

In the Midwest, corn crop residue will feed animals for an average of 65 to 111 days depending on weight gains needed to obtain the desired body condition. Low supplementation may be necessary in some cases.

Livestock select the residue with the highest digestibility first, so supplementation beyond trace minerals salt and vitamin A are not likely to be necessary the first month. As winter progresses and residue quality decreases, additional supplementation may be necessary.

Before grazing crop residue fields, it is important to check the labels of any pesticides used on the crop to see if they are cleared for grazing. Also, check the fencelines and waterways for poisonous plants.

Research conducted at several Midwestern universities show no difference in the performance of cattle that grazed Bt corn crop residue and those that grazed non-Bt corn crop residue. Research has also been conducted to determine if grazing crop residue has any affect on the yield the following year. Corn and soybeans have shown similar yields, particularly if grazed when soils are frozen.

Soybean stubble is low in quality and cannot provide adequate nutrition for beef cows or stockers. It should not be used as a feed source unless supplemented substantially.

The source of most of the information in this article came from two publications shared with me by Root River Grazing Specialist Dean Thomas. They are: "Extended Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs", by Don Ball, Ed Ballard, Mark Kennedy, Garry Lacefield, and Dan Undersander; and "Improving and Sustaining Forage Production in Pastures," by Howard Moechnig. I have several free copies in both the Fillmore and Houston County Extension Offices or stop by the Fillmore SWCD Office and Dean will provide you with them.

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