Cornstalk Grazing Q&A’s

Fall harvest is wrapping up in the Midwest and the Plains states. The residue left behind – corn stalks – offer cattle producers a cost-effective way to feed their livestock throughout the next few months. Kevin Glaubius, Director of Nutrition for BioZyme® Inc., took time to answer questions about grazing corn stalks and being prepared from a nutrition standpoint.

Q1 – How long can producers let their cattle graze corn stalks?

At 150 bushels an acre, approximately 1 acre of corn stalks are needed to feed a cow for 30 days. To feed the same cow on corn stalks for 60 days, 2 acres are needed.

2- What kind of supplementation should producers think about when they turn out to corn stalks?

This depends on if you are grazing cows that are nursing calves or if you are grazing cows that are 3-4 months away from calving. With pairs, you will need to provide extra protein along with balanced vitamins and minerals, whereas with cows in the last part of gestation, a vitamin and mineral supplementation should meet requirements.

Producers looking for an all-natural supplement might consider the VitaFerm® Concept•Aid® Protein Meal or VitaFerm Concept•Aid Protein Tub. Both contain adequate protein for cow-calf pairs and for cows 60 days pre-calving or 60-days post-breeding.

The cattle diets will change and so will their nutrient requirements as they graze. If you have enough stalks to graze for 60 days, you can save some money by delaying the protein supplementation to the half-way point. The cows will eat the products with the most nutrient value first, the corn, then move to husks and leaves, and finish with the stalks, having the lowest nutrient value. Providing a protein supplement early on typically doesn’t benefit the cows and adds an extra expense.

One supplement we recommend with confidence is VitaFerm® Cattlemen’s Blend™. This all-purpose, free-choice mineral contains Amaferm®, a natural prebiotic designed to maximize the nutritional value of feed. It is research-proven to significantly increase forage digestion for an increase in pasture utilization resulting in optimal health and performance. The Amaferm promotes bacteria grow, providing adequate protein to the grazing livestock.

3 – A lot of high winds have resulted in downed corn and fallen ears through the Plains states this year. What challenges do producers face with overconsumption and how can they avoid those challenges?

First, calculate how much corn you have on the ground. An eight-inch ear of corn contains about a half-pound of corn grain; therefore, 112 eight-inch ears would equal a bushel of corn (56 lbs. of shelled corn to the bushel). By counting the number of ears, the amount of corn can be estimated. If corn is in 30-inch rows, count the number of ears in three different 100-foot furrow strips and divide by two to give an approximate number of bushels per acre.

Then, you have three basic options.

  • First, strip graze to limit access to downed corn by cross fencing the field. If you have a pivot, use it to ty your fencing to, and moved the pivot slowly to reduce access to downed corn. Otherwise, a hot-wire fence will work, but this does add time and labor.
  • Second, choose which livestock to graze. Cattle that haven’t grazed stalks before, such as weaned calves or yearlings, will often take time before they actively seek out corn. This can give cattle time to acclimate and adjust to the corn. You can let weaned calves graze first for 2-3 weeks, because they will pick up the corn that is easy to find. Then, turn out cows to let them dig and root around for corn that isn’t as readily available.
  • Finally, prepare cows by feeding them corn before turning them out to corn stalks. Cows that have grazed corn stalks will actively seek downed corn. Start cows while still on pasture with 2-3 pounds of corn per head, per day and work them up to 10-12 pounds of corn before going to corn stalks. Take 7 to 10 days to do this. Feed a mineral that is 2:1 or 3:1 calcium:phosphorous ratio, as corn and corn stalks are high in phosphorous.

Regardless of which strategy you choose, feed Amaferm. Amaferm quickly supports microbial adjustment to new feed and ration changes, helping maintain the rumen pH above 6; below 6 is considered acidosis conditions. Research has shown Amaferm’s effect on rumen pH stabilization and its ability to stimulate a faster growth of lactate-utilizing bacteria. These bacteria convert lactic acid to usable energy for the animal.

Also, remove salt so that cattle eat the mineral. Add sodium bicarbonate at a rate of 25 pounds per 1,000 gallons of drinking water to act as a rumen buffer.

4 – What other precautionary measures can producers take to make sure they are maximizing their efficiency and providing good nutrition on stalks?

Especially this year, when there is so much corn down, keep a close eye on the livestock that are grazing corn stalks. If you see any signs of bloat or sickness, be prepared to call your veterinarian right away. If you do need to treat a cow or calf, include one of the Vita Charge® products in the treatment plan. The Vita Charge Paste and Vita Charge Drench both contain Amaferm and high amounts of A, D and B vitamins that assist in recovery.

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