Grazing Standing Corn and Climbing Beans

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $6,107.00
Projected End Date: 03/14/2017
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Lynn Barber
Heritage Acres

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, Velvet Beans
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management

    Proposal summary:

    Overwintering cattle is one of the costliest parts of any beef operation. With small farms, this is compounded in that many producers do not have the acreage to plant additional winter grazing. Additionally, the labor associated with feeding cattle through the winter months can be substantial, not only from a cost stand point, but also with regards to time. Many small farmers lack the storage facilities and equipment to grow their own grain and/or silage and must rely on bagged or processed feeds and protein supplements from retail stores. Often, the prices for bagged feeds and supplements are prohibitive for many small producers. Forage has traditionally been one of the best methods for feeding cattle, however, fertilizer inputs such as nitrogen can greatly affect the producer’s ability to grow high quality forage.

    In years prior to World War II, many farmers grew corn intercropped with velvet beans as a source of winter forage/feed. As modern producers look for sustainable production practices, many of these older methods need to be revisited to see if they are viable for modern producers. Corn grown with a climbing bean such as velvet beans, lablab, etc, could provide a quality winter forage. This research would help determine the following:

    • Cost effectiveness of grazing standing corn/beans.
    • Benefits to soil quality from nitrogen fixation as well as animals adding organic matter back to land.
    • Stocking rates and grazing periods for successful utilization of corn/bean forage.
    • If grazing standing corn/beans significantly reduces the amount of purchased hay and feed?
    • How many hours of labor are needed to effectively graze cattle on standing corn/beans?

    By conducting this research for two years, the corn/bean forage crop will be grown during two separate growing seasons to get a better analysis of the benefits and/or drawbacks of this system. Additionally, soil analysis will be taken prior to the second year planting to see if the beans provided enough nitrogen back to the soil to reduce nitrogen applications to the crop.

    A three acre paddock will be planted with corn and climbing beans in early spring (preferably velvet bean, but possibly Lablab or another climbing variety if velvet bean seed is limited). University of Georgia forage specialists will be consulted for help in determining seeding rates. Fertilization will be at the recommended rate for corn based on soil analysis. After first frost, the crop will be limit grazed each day (approximately 3 hours/day). After the first week, the duration of grazing may be adjusted to best utilize the available forage. Electric fence twine and temporary posts will be used to strip graze the paddock to promote full utilization of the crop by the cattle. Body condition of the cattle will be observed weekly and additional hay and/or protein will be provided if the average body condition drops below acceptable levels.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The following measurements will be used to measure the success of the project:

    • How many hours of labor were used to strip graze the cattle during the winter months and how does this compare with the amount of labor needed to purchase and feed commercial feeds and supplements?
    • What was the cost comparison between grazing standing corn/beans and feeding traditional winter feeds (hay and grain/protein supplement)?
    • A soil analysis will be taken after the first season to determine how much nitrogen was added back to the soil by the legume crop. This will be used to determine if nitrogen application rates can be reduced in subsequent plantings.
    • Body condition of the cattle will be recorded throughout the grazing period to determine if adequate body condition can be maintained on standing corn/beans.


    In the second year, the project will be repeated, however, different seed varieties and seeding rates/spacing will be used to determine varieties that are most useful for this type of grazing system and best spacing/seeding rates.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.