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Grazing Your Herd on Corn: What to Know

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Are you leaving your corn to stand for grazing this year? Doing so can not only lower your winter feed costs but also return nutrients to the soil and ensure your herd gets the nutrition they need.

Corn is a high energy feed, its protein levels are close to meeting the nutritional needs of a pregnant cow. Corn produces more dry matter per acre than hay or forage cereals, and by switching from traditional winter feed to grazing corn, your labour, machinery use, and fuel costs are reduced.

Here are some tips on how best to utilize your grazing corn.

Feed Analysis #

It’s recommended farmers do a whole plant feed analysis to determine which supplements you should provide to your herd along with the grazing corn. The best time to test your plants is a few weeks prior to the cows being turned out. This will develop supplemental rations to support your herd’s nutrient requirements.

Grazing Time #

A corn hybrid that reaches the dent stage (R5) before a killing frost is ideal for grazing and is best utilized by your herd when the ground is frozen as this minimizes plant waste. Efficient utilization is when less than 810 kg/acre of residue remains post-grazing.

Grazing Length

To maximize utilization, cattle should only be provided access to a few days of feed at a time to ensure they’re consuming the entire plant. Typically, they’ll have access for three to four days as this minimizes the risk of rumen acidosis and wastage of the crop.

A Good Fence

Cross fencing and minimizing the grazing area will help increase feed utilization. Training your herd on an electric fence prior to turnout will help them to develop a level of respect for the fencing.

A Backup Plan

Falls with freezing and thawing or excess rainfall events can turn corn fields into muddy messes. Naturally, this also increases your likelihood of crop wastage, so having a backup plan where you get your herd off the field and onto another feed source is good to have. Once the ground freezes for good, you can get your herd back onto the field. And though excess snow can complicate matters, standing corn does provide shelter and tall hybrids allow cattle to continue grazing in deep snow.

Hybrid Selection for Next Season

When using your corn crop for grazing, it’s recommended you choose a hybrid with 100 to 200 more corn heat units (CHUs) than you would for a grain crop. This will help you to reach 65% whole plant moisture for the region.

When choosing your hybrid for next season, it’s also important to take its yield potential into consideration. You can find this by reviewing data across years and location on our website here. By doing this, you’ll be able to determine how the hybrid will perform under different growing conditions.

Other factors to consider when selecting a corn hybrid should be standability and stalk strength, drydown rate, and disease and herbicide traits. Reviewing several sources of data when making your selection will also give you all available information.

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