As I drive to work every morning, I go past a field or two being grazed by cattle. Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist recently wrote an article on grazing corn stalks, which I’ve included in this week’s column. Grazing corn stalks during winter has many benefits. It can save over a dollar a day per cow compared to feeding expensive hay.
But, the way you manage grazing of stalks by your cattle can have a big effect on its success. For instance, maybe you have a goal of feeding as little protein supplement as possible while winter grazing. Then you must make sure you have enough acres of corn stalks so your cattle only need to select just the higher quality plant parts to eat. And whenever the grain and husks are gone, move to a fresh field. Or, maybe you use stalks just as a filler to keep cows from bellowing while you limit feed corn, distiller’s grains, or other more nutrient dense feeds. Then high stocking levels and unrestricted access might be best.
Another strategy might be to stretch winter stalks as far as possible. In that case, restricting animal access to small areas at a time by strip grazing until nearly all the grazable stalks are gone might be best. Be careful, though, about forcing cows to eat the lower stalks. They won’t get much protein or energy from lower stalks but the nitrate levels might be dangerously high.
Whatever your strategy, consider carefully what kind of nutrition animals are getting from the stalk pasture so you neither underfeed nor overfeed expensive supplements.
Also be sure to provide salt, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A free choice at all times. And once all the grain is gone, cows need about half a pound per day of an all-natural protein to meet nutrient needs. Stalk season is here. Make wise decisions to use them best.