By Stan Smith
I know I’ve shared this story before, but considering the weather we experienced across much of Ohio the first half of summer, it’s appropriate to tell it again. Dad was a mechanic for a local farm implement dealer. Once while out on a combine service call in mid summer he asked the farmer if he’d gotten all his hay made. The response – in a deep German accent – was, “Yes, it got made . . . but it rained so much I never got it baled.”
Despite that being the case in many parts again this year, and then followed by a very dry late summer, the fact is that we still have an abundance of feedstuffs available that will maintain beef cows cost effectively if managed and supplemented properly. Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time in this publication discussing the planting of small grains and annual forages in late summer and fall for supplemental forage. With over 400,000 acres of wheat harvested in Ohio this year, the opportunities were huge for producing additional forages on those acres.
Today, let’s discuss a couple more of the opportunities that remain. With Ohio farmers in the midst of harvesting more than 3 million acres of corn, the potential for the brood cow feed supply being extended well into fall by utilizing crop residue is huge. Corn crop residue is practical for feeding dry, gestating beef cows in mid gestation providing they have average or better body condition. Managed correctly, one acre of corn residue can yield up to 60 animal unit grazing days (60 days of grazing for a 1000 pound animal). It’s also the perfect crop to utilize while stockpiling perennial forages throughout the fall.
Grazing “efficiency” will determine exactly how much feed is realized from corn residue. Moveable electric fencing can increase utilization up to 50% by allowing cattlemen to control the amount of area grazed thus, preventing the cattle from “selective” grazing or “trampling” many of the leaves or husks. “Strip” grazing the cows will also reduce the potential for acidosis in situations where there may have been excessive field losses of grain. Simply “dumping” the cows onto the entire corn field will be least efficient but will allow more residue to remain on the field over the winter for cover. Cattle will select and eat the grain first, then the husk and leaves, and finally the cobs and stalks.
Fields containing corn residues should be grazed soon after harvest for optimum quality, and fields with poor drainage or compaction concerns should not be grazed over extended periods of time. Producers with a Conservation Plan should check with NRCS to be certain that the grazing of corn stalks does not violate the Plan.
If corn stalk fields are not presently fenced, temporary electric fencing is an economical alternative. Depending on the size and layout of the field, harvested corn fields can be encircled with a single strand of poly or high tensile wire supported with fiberglass posts for perhaps $10+/- per acre. Even if a fence charger must be purchased to allow the grazing of corn residue, up to 45 days per acre of feed may be provided a typical Ohio brood cow at a cost of under 25 cents/head per day. And, of course, the materials purchased to provide this temporary boundary may be reused from year to year, thus, making the “annual” cost of ownership even less.