The purpose of the project was to determine the feasibility of grazing standing corn as the sole winter feed source for beef cows in eastern Iowa, as compared to standard methods.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The first step was to determine nutrient need for the 31 cows used for the project. using information supplied by Dr. Ken Nimrich, Western Illinois University, it was determined the cows needed 8-9 pounds of corn grain per day.
The area to be grazed had strips harvested through it, harvesting 4 rows and leaving 12. Fence posts were set in the harvested strips at the point each cross fence would be placed during the winter. Each daily paddock was set to be approximately 30 feet x 35 feet to meet the needs of cows weighing 1220 pounds.
The cows were turned into the first paddock on December 3rd. They received about 25 pounds of corn silage in the morning and were turned into the corn about noon. They had been grazing corn stalks for about a month prior to this time.
The fences were set up with electric tape with two fences always ahead of them as a safety factor. Only one fiberglass post was used in the cross fence, which was fairly easy to drive in the frozen ground enough to hold the fence.
The first few paddocks were on a sandy hill and did not yield as well as the 206 bushel average of the harvested strips. thus they were not getting the required nutrition and were rather restless for the first few days. They were given a corn stalk bale on day 6 to help fill them up. After that they seemed to be satisfied. A month later they received another corn stalk bale during a period of very cold weather. There was no other supplemental feed given during the corn grazing time other than salt and mineral.
There were a few problems during the project. The cows did get through the fence one time. It appeared something had probably chased them through the fence. Three of the cows appeared to have over eaten, but did not have any lasting effects from it. A month later one cow aborted (not one of the three) but it is unlikely it was related to the cows getting out.
This group of cows was compared to two other groups from the same herd. One herd grazed corn stalks until February 1, and then received corn silage and corn gluten. The third group grazed stock piled forage until January 10 and then were fed hay. The following table compares feed cost and labor for each group.
Group1, Group2, Group 2, Group 3, Group 3
Feed cost/herd/day, 40 cents, 10 cents, silage, stockpiled forage, hay
Labor for herd/day, 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes
An additional 8 hours of labor was needed to set up the fence at the beginning of the corn grazing.
The cows in the corn grazing group were condition scored at the beginning and end of the project. The scores ranged from 4 to 6.5 both times. The cows in the upper end of the range may have slightly lost condition. The ones in the middle stayed about the same and the ones in the lower end gained up to ½ score. Overall there was not much change in condition of the cows during the time they were grazing the corn.
The economic advantage of one group over another will depend on two main variables. The first is the weather. If snow comes early in the season and stays through the winter, the corn grazing would have a much bigger advantage. The snow could get quite deep and not affect the cow’s ability to graze the corn. This winter had little snow, so the corn stalk and stockpiled grazing was able to continue later than in many years.
The second variable would be the cost comparison between hay and corn. In most recent years the price of nutrients from corn has been cheaper than from hay. The prices used in the above table were from January 2004. Since that time corn prices has increased more than the hay price.
In eastern Iowa the main use for this practice would be after the normal period of corn stalk grazing is completed. Again, this could be when the stalks are used up or when the snow gets too deep. It appears form this project that grazing standing corn is a viable alternative to traditional methods to reduce winter feed costs for beef cows.
Several local farmers were shown the project during the winter to try to expose them to this concept. Since the idea is new to this area it was difficult to get people to change the mindset that “cows don’t belong in the corn.”
An area publication “Country Life” ran an article with pictures explaining the project. This article brought several comments and questions. An article on the project will be sent to other regional and state publications.
The information on the project will also be shared at a pasture walk that will be held this summer.