The weather for this grazing project was a major problem. We ran into the worst drought in several decades with several rainy spells before and after some critical planting times. These problems made it difficult to evaluate the success of the project. The dairy heifers were grazed successfully on corn and turnips, at different time periods. We do believe that turnips and grazing corn can be successful, however, weather and timing is a critical element to making it successful. We would not want to count on Ohio weather to cooperate every year. Certain years we think it will work, but other times, it is best to rely on stored feed.
This project was to start in April/May 2002 with the planting of grazing corn. After a wet May, corn was planted May 28th. The ground was hard but it was worked several times. On June 3rd, we received .75 inch of rain. We did not get another rain until August 20th, when we received 3.25 inches. Then we received several inches of rain in the fall and that caused planting delays on rye. The drought of 2002 was the worst drought this area has seen since the 1950s. Corn yields averaged 42 bushel per acre and corn silage yields were around 5 tons per acre. Normal yields are 150 to 175 bushel of corn and 15 to 25 tons per acre corn silage.
In April 2002, we started out with 61 head of dairy heifers weighing about 850-900 pounds. About May 1st, we bought another 62 head weighing 400 lbs. to put on rented pasture at the Indian Lake Grazing Site. We were going to use this group for the research study. We planned to graze them at the Indian Lake Grazing Site in Logan County from May until October. Due to drought conditions, they were grazed until July 8th and then returned to our farm. So we had 123 head on 40 acres in the summer of 2002. We planned to graze the smaller heifers (second group) on turnips, followed by grazing corn in the winter, and then rye in between the turnips and corn, and then graze the rye in late winter/early spring
Since the corn was very poor, we grazed the corn we had for feed by August 5th. We sold the first large group of cattle in several groups in early August and bought 40 acres of corn silage at 5 ton per acre. We grazed the second group of cattle on turnips the first year on 5 acres until December 16th. The turnips were planted August 1st and produced about 2 tons per acre. We had good growth and good yields once the rains returned in early September. We did not start the study since we did not have any corn to graze. We ended up having a wet fall so rye was not planted on time (November 15) resulting in a poor stand.
After contacting SARE, we agreed to try the study again in 2003 with some modifications. First, the heifers would be much larger and we needed more feed. Since we were short of feed (which was high priced due to the drought), we sold 38 head in June. We kept 24 head to complete the study. We wanted to sell this group of cattle by March 1st, 2004, so we did not plant rye, we only planted turnips and grazing corn. We did not buy more replacement heifers in 2003 because they were too high priced. We grazed a smaller group of larger dairy heifers on turnips and grazing corn. The corn was planted June 8th at 24,000 seeds per acre (Baldridge Amazing Graze) after another wet spring. June 18th, we received 2.75 inches which flooded part of the field. We ended up with about 3/4 stand, most of which was on the high ground. We cultivated the corn and applied 40 gallons of 28 percent N on July 5th. We grazed 5 acres of the poorest corn on the wet soils from August 1-10, then disced it and put in turnips. We seeded 10 pounds turnips on 5 acres. We had a month of dry weather. We got good rains from September 23-28, so the turnips sprouted and started growing about October 1st. We started grazing turnips December 5th. The turnips were thick but small. We did not get as much growth as the previous year but they were very tender. They only lasted about 2 weeks.
We started grazing corn in strips October 14th and grazed them until February 3rd. The cattle were sold February 16th. The cattle grazed all the corn throughout the winter except for two periods (9 days total) of extended wet rainy weather when conditions were too muddy and wet. The cattle had similar rates of gain compared to dairy heifers fed corn silage.
We learned several lessons grazing corn over two years. One, use two strands of electric tape. If a corn stalk falls over and shorts out the line, the dairy cattle will quickly move into new corn and ruin it. The first year, cattle got into the corn three times. Second, do not attempt to graze corn on wet fields or fields prone to flooding. The cows will make a muddy mess of it. They also compacted the soil. The first year, after the drought, the weather turned wet and muddy and caused problems with the cattle. Do not graze cattle if they are hungry because they tend to jump the fence. We waited too long that first year to move the fence and the cattle learned to jump the electric fence. Move cattle every day or no less than every 3 days. Also, set up your next paddock immediately after moving the cattle to a new paddock. If you wait 3 days, and they see you coming, they tend to get antsy and move themselves. That first year was very tiring. Each temporary fence had to be taken down, rolled up and moved. The electric tape and the ends tended to get caught on the corn stalks. The average length of time was 45 minutes to 1 hour. Several times it took 1.5 hours to get everything moved. This included a lot of back tracking and checking of wires. Finally, remember the time change. Trying to move fence in the dark is very difficult. Since I work a full time job, sometimes it is difficult to move cattle in the middle of the week. Working 8AM-5PM with an hour for clean up and transportation to work made it difficult to get cattle moved during daylight hours.
By the second year we were considerably wiser and more experienced. Since our fields were rectangular, we made some simple changes. First, we cut the electric tape so that it was exactly 5 feet longer than the width of the field and only had one hook on one side of the field. The first thing we would do is turn the electric off and walk to the opposite side (south side) where the tape was tied to the electric fence. The hooked electric tape was on the north side. First, we let the cattle into the new corn to be grazed. While they were busy eating, we removed electric tape from all the stakes, pulling up stakes on the way to the north side (all in one trip). Then we would drive the 4-wheeler south and back (north), two passes in same track (3 rows) creating a new paddock, knocking over 2 rows of corn. Typically we left 6 rows of corn for the cattle to eat over 3 days. Then we would tie the two pieces of electric tape with the hooked ends to our pants and pull it around the corn as we reset the stakes in the middle of the down corn going south. The electric tape, without a hook or reel would not get caught on the corn stalks. On our way back, we would hook both lines on the south fence and hook the electric tape on each stake heading north. Each stake was 30 feet apart, and we used 12 stakes in 300 feet. Lines were placed 18 inches and 36 inches apart off the ground. At the north end, we would tie the electric lines. The cows would still be feeding so they never bothered us and stayed away from the electric tape, even though it was not hot. When we needed to move the cattle again, we would start on the north side, reversing our pattern, always starting on the side where the electric tape was tied to the electric fence.
Sometimes, we needed to wrap the electric tape around a stake to tighten up the line. When we hooked the electric tape on stakes, we always made sure there was no standing corn stalks within 3 feet of the electric lines and no corn stalks touching the lines. Then we turned on the electricity. We could accomplish this whole task in two passes, one walking and one riding, in about 15-20 minutes. We did this every 3 days. On off days, we could check fence in 5 minutes. It took 15 minutes a day to feed the control group.
We had very few problems with inserting the stakes into frozen ground. We used hard round plastic stakes and tapped them in with a hammer. Several times, when the ground was frozen really hard, we used a 1/4 inch bolt to make a pre-hole before inserting the stake. The worst problems occurred after an ice or snow storm or a wet rainy period followed by cold weather (0-10 degrees Farenheit). If the corn is positioned so that the cattle could graze on the lee side of the wind, the dairy heifers would spend most of the day in the field. Typically the cows grazed the grain first followed by the leaves. They would wait a day and then start grazing the stalks. After 2-3 days, they would graze 60 percent of the plant. After about 7-10 days, they would graze about 85 percent of the plant. Typically, we gave them free access to the grazing plots once it was opened up so that they could get back to the barn for water. We did not use a back electric line fence. This made it easier to move fence quicker. Since the heifers had access to water in the barn, we did not have to worry about frozen water lines in the field. This plan requires having corn planted in a field close to the barn.
Dairy Heifer Gain
We weighed cattle on October 21, 2003 and February 1, 2004 for a 72-day period. We had 8 heifers in the control group that averaged 1,028.1 pounds. They gained 141.3 pounds over 72 days or an average gain of 1.961 pounds per day. Their ending weight was 1,169 pounds. The 16 head in the grazing corn group weighed a little more at 1074.7 pounds, gained 129.7 pounds over 72 days or averaged 1.8 pounds per day with an ending weight of 1,204.4. The control group was in a large pen inside the barn and was not exposed to the weather. The grazing group also had shelter but had to walk daily to graze corn. Both groups had access to hay.
The control group was fed about 7-10 pounds hay, 35-40 pounds of corn silage, and 2.5 pounds of soybean meal per head. The grazing cattle had access to the Amazing Graze Corn, free choice on hay, and 2.5 pounds of soybean meal mixed with 2.5 pounds shelled corn. The rations were almost identical. The corn silage was harvested the year before (2002). The nutrient levels declined slightly but held fairly steady on the grazing corn. The wasted portion was also sampled and was slightly lower but similar to the grazed corn that was consumed.
Three separate grazing meetings were held where grazing corn was discussed. The first was on March 1st, 2002 at the Ohio Forage and Grazing Council meeting with about 115 grazers in attendance. On August 8, 2002 we held a field day at the farm with about 20 participants. We had four speakers discuss grazing. It was a difficult year due to the drought. On October 1st, the Indian Lake Watershed and Logan County OSU Extension Office held a regional 3-day grazing workshop and I spoke for 1 hour on grazing corn with 65 in attendance. Articles were written for an Amish newsletter and sent to 220 Amish farmers in Ohio and 76 Extension Agents and agency personnel in 13 states. A fact sheet entitled Using Corn for Livestock Grazing was developed and is located on the web at http://ohioline.osu.edu/anr-fact/0011.html.
The weather was the main problem with this project. The drought set us back a year. Wet weather hurt the turnips the second year. Overall, grazing corn produced similar gains although slightly lower. The grazing heifers had to walk more and were more exposed to the weather. Except for 9 days of wet rainy weather, the cattle grazed every day. On the days they did not graze, they were fed corn silage and it was very similar to the grazed corn. This project would work better for finishing beef cattle for slaughter.