Grazing cornstalks can be a low-cost feed option

Corn residue is an abundant, affordable feedstuff in the Corn Belt. Yet each year, acres upon acres go ungrazed, even on diversified farms. Grazing cornstalks is a sig­nificant source of feed for a cow-calf operation, but there are challenges: fencing, water, supplementation, compaction and the impact of graz­ing on the following grain crop, to name a few.

Over three years, University of Illinois researchers measured cow performance, residue quality and utilization as well as subsequent crop yield. Two grazing methods—strip grazing and continuous grazing— and an ungrazed control were used. Following corn harvest, cows were allowed to graze for six weeks.

In the continuous-grazed treat­ment, cows were allowed access to the full paddock the entire time. The stocking rate was 1.2 cows per acre.

In the strip-grazed treatment, the field was divided into three sections. Cows were allowed access to a new strip every two weeks. No back fencing was used. Thus, after 14 days, cows had access to the first strip and the new second strip. During the last two weeks, the cows had access to the entire paddock.

Residue grazing started in late September the first year, in early November the second year and in early October the third year. The acres were maintained in contin­uous corn during the trial period. Spring tillage occurred each year.

The research resulted in four main points:

  1. Grazing residue for a six-week period following corn harvest did not impact subsequent crop yield. This was true for both continuous grazing and strip grazing.
  2. Grazing helped remove and incorporate residue. Roughly 4 tons of dry matter per acre were available for grazing. Residue available after grazing in either treatment was close to half of what was initially in the field. In the ungrazed control paddock, 78% of residue remained, with losses likely due to wind and plant degradation.
  3. Cattle consumed mainly husks and leaves. Cobs also declined.
  4. Stalk percentage increased due to reduction of other components. After grazing, the actual weight of the stalk component was similar across all treatments, which illus­trates the selectivity of cattle grazing cornstalks. Cattle look for more pal­atable feedstuffs. Cattle first eat the remaining corn grain, then husks, then leaves and finally the stalk.

Cows that strip grazed corn resi­due had increased bodyweight gains and weighed more than cows in the continuous-grazed trial. It’s likely that the strip-grazed treatment po­tentially partitioned nutrients more evenly over the period.

Measures of residue showed strip grazing had more nutritive quality toward the end of the grazing period. The strip-grazed cows were allowed less area to travel for the first two two-week periods. Contin­uous-grazed cows spent more time searching for palatable residue. This extra time spent traveling the area not only resulted in increased main­tenance requirement, but also could have increased trampling of husks and leaves, thus reducing available residue for consumption.

Operations on heavy, deep, poorly drained soils can still benefit from cornstalk grazing, but management is needed to reduce traffic and avoid higher stocking rates during wet periods. But if the operation is not limited in corn acres, then stocking density is easily addressed by allow­ing more acres per paddock or by using a continuous-grazing system.

Because cattle eat the more-digestible and higher-protein por­tions first, a good mineral may be the only supplementation needed for the first month. The exception is a herd that includes fall-calving cows or stocker calves. For them, a supplement will be necessary to meet nutrient demands of lactation and growth, respectively

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Are your steers up to the challenge?

SteersHealth Track cattle, such as these on the farm of Jim Novinger in Kirksville, Mo., may be eligible to compete in the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Profitability Challenge. MFA is among the contest’s supporters.There is a new game in town that promises genuine insight into the world of beef production. It is a “Profitability Challenge” that will use the latest beef industry technology to identify Missouri’s “Top 100 Steers.”

MFA Incorporated is dedicating considerable resources in support of this valuable project, also supported by the Mis­souri Cattlemen’s Association, the University of Missouri, GrowSafe, Idexx, Elanco and Valley Oaks Steak Company.

This is a great way to promote MFA’s com­mitment to young beef producers, highlight the value of Health Track preconditioning and pro­mote Missouri beef in a way that hasn’t been done before. In the end, the winning steers will be the ones with the highest total profitability.

The science

Renovations are being made at the MU South Farm in Columbia, Mo., to provide indoor housing for 100 steers that will be monitored using the latest GrowSafe technology. This equipment will measure individual feed intake and weight gain each time the cattle eat or drink from delivery to finish, which allows individual feed efficiency and overall performance to be determined. This system will also decide an optimum harvest date, and the steers will all be harvested at the Valley Oaks facility in Lone Jack, Mo., where carcass value will be determined on a standard grid.

The contest

The steers will be ranked in order of their overall profit­ability, which is a combination of performance and carcass value. There are cash prizes for the winners, but more im­portantly, producers earn bragging rights and the ability to measure genetics. All data will be shared with participating producers, although ownership of each steer will only be known by the participant during the contest.

As data is collected every day, a “Fantasy Football”-type contest will be available to local FFA chapters. The FFA members will be able to see each steer’s progress, build their “teams” and rank the steers. The final tally will occur after all of the steers have been harvested and carcass value is added to the profitability calculation.

The terms

Entry deadline is Sept. 13. All steers entered must have been preconditioned and approved through the MFA Health Track program. In addition, they must test persistently infected (PI) negative through IDEXX Laboratories prior to delivery. De­livery will be accepted only on Nov. 9 at the MU South Farm Beef Research Center. The weight after a settling-in period must be between 618 and 840 pounds. To get detailed data at the end of the contest, producers are required to donate half the value of the delivered steer to Missouri Cattlemen’s Asso­ciation to help protect the viability of the beef industry.

For more details, visit For more information on how to enroll calves into the Health Track program, contact your local MFA retail location or MFA livestock sales repre­sentative.

UPDATE - the 2020/2021 contest information and sign-up forms can be found here:



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Help horses keep their cool when heat is on

Summer will soon officially arrive, bringing the challenge of managing horses during hot weath­er. Horses can acclimate to hot and humid environments. A 15-day to 21-day acclimation period is recommended for horses originat­ing from cooler or drier climates that are traveling to compete or reside in hot, humid conditions. The acclimation period results in an increased tolerance to both heat and exercise. However, acclimation does not reduce the need for close moni­toring of horses during training and competition in these environments.

To help reduce the effects of heat and keep horses comfortable, con­sider the following:

  • Provide turnout during cooler times of the day—early in the morning, late at night or over­night.
  • Provide relief from the sun through access to shade from trees or buildings. Remember that shade will change throughout the day, and constructed buildings may block natural air flow.
  • Watch for signs of sunburn, especially on white or light-col­ored areas. Use masks to protect the horses’ faces.
  • Fans help to improve airflow, but be sure to keep cords and plugs out of the horse’s reach to prevent electrocution.
  • Ensure access to clean, cool water at all times. “Cool” is de­fined as being 45 to 64 degrees. Depending on feed, an adult horse in a cool climate will nor­mally drink 6 to 10 gallons of water each day while at rest and much more while working or in situations with high heat and humidity.
  • Water buckets and tanks may need to be cleaned more regu­larly in hot weather as algae and bacteria grow rapidly in warm water. Blue algae toxicity is more common in ponds or slow-run­ning streams during hot, dry weather.
  • Free-choice access to salt will encourage drinking. The two electrolytes that most often need to be replaced from sweating are sodium and chloride, which make up salt. Loose salt is pre­ferred to a salt block. Offering free-choice MFA 5% Horse Mineral with Shield also helps to mitigate heat stress. It contains salt as well as essential oils and a proprietary blend of botanical extracts and synbiotics, all of which help boost the horse’s health and immune system.
  • Consider providing electrolytes to horses that have been sweat­ing heavily or are expected to do so. If electrolytes are added to drinking water, also offer plain water since some horses dislike the taste of electrolytes and will drink less. This situation is sim­ilar with people—some like to drink Gatorade. Others do not.
  • Reduce riding intensity and length. Heat stress can affect any horse but is especially common in older, obese and out-of-con­dition horses. Young foals also tend to be more prone to heat stress and dehydration.
  • Clip horses with long hair coats, such as horses with Cushing’s disease, to enhance cooling.
  • Transport horses during the coolest part of the day. Ensure that trailers are well ventilated. Offer water frequently. Do not park in direct sunlight with horses inside.
  • Horses that have little or no ability to produce sweat have a condition called “anhidrosis-hypohidrosis,” and are prime candidates for heat stress. Re­search shows 2% to 6% of hors­es can develop this issue. They may require additional manage­ment strategies to mitigate the effects of heat stress, such as electrolyte therapy.
  • Avoid riding a horse when the combined temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and percent relative humidity is greater than 150. For example, if it is 80 degrees out, a relative humidity of greater than 70% exceeds the 150 calculation.

If a horse must be worked during hot and humid weather, consider adjusting your schedule to ride ear­ly in the morning or late at night. Work the horse in shade when possible, and keep the work light. Include frequent breaks that allow the horse to cool down and regain a normal respiratory rate. Do not work the horse beyond its fitness level. Watch for normal sweating. Inside the stable, create airflow, use fans and exploit the “chimney effect,” in which rising warm air forces cooler air to infiltrate through doors, windows or other openings. Provide access to cool, clean water at all times and offer water fre­quently during work.

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Fix your mix for ration uniformity

How consistent is the ration you are feeding? Inconsistencies can set cattle up for nutritional issues or lead to disappointment when performance suffers. Either out­come has economic consequences. Mixing efficacy, or lack thereof, can have just as much impact on the outcome of the ration as the formulation.

Ultimately, the main goal of mixing a ration is to blend ingredi­ents in a way that delivers the same amount of ingredients and nutri­ents to every animal in each bite of every feeding. Evaluating variation in nutrient or ingredient levels is one of the most cost-effective and reliable means of monitoring ration consistency.

To evaluate ration consistency, collect five samples from the bunk, spaced evenly from the beginning through the end of distribution. These samples should be collected as soon as possible of delivery to the bunk, and sample collection should be replicated across three to five separate batches or feedings.

If possible, follow the mixer through feedout. Avoid collecting samples after cattle have had time to eat, as the results obtained from these samples will mislead you to believe there is an issue with mixing efficacy when there may not be.

Once the samples have been collected, they should be submitted to a laboratory for analysis. Sodium, crude protein and fiber—either neutral detergent fiber or acid detergent fiber—are often used as markers.

Another marker often used is an ionophore, such as Rumensin or Bovatec, or a micronutrient such as a specific vitamin or trace mineral with a known target concentration. It is usually cheaper to test for sodium, which is added in a rela­tively large amount from a single source. The sodium content in plant materials will be low and have little variation.

If there is an issue with ration uniformity, it can usually be addressed by troubleshooting the source and uniformity of ingredi­ents, level of ingredients, order of ingredient addition to the mixer and mixing times.

A problem with mixing efficacy, whether it’s undermixing or over­mixing, is most commonly caused by adding ingredients in a sequence that does not allow them to blend sufficiently. Often, the order of addition is based on convenience rather than the kinetics of blending. If the goal is to create a uniform ra­tion, ingredients should be includ­ed in the right order and blended for the amount of time necessary to disperse throughout the entire mixture without causing them to re-segregate or settle.

This is a fairly complex topic dependent upon a combination of many factors. But for now, consid­er the physical characteristics and inclusion level of each ingredient and how that may contribute to ease or difficulty of dispersion throughout the ration. The ingre­dients together should be more similar rather than less similar.

One of the most common areas of concern is the dispersion of micro-ingredients, such as drugs or other additives. If lack of disper­sion of these ingredients is leading to a high level of variation, first consider the level of inclusion. It is nearly impossible for most mixers to disperse a very small amount of these ingredients throughout a batch without a micro-machine. If this is the issue, and a micro-machine is not an option, premix­ing is likely the solution.

Indeed, both Rumensin and Bovatec labels suggest making a premix first. It follows that mi­cro-ingredients, those used at less than 1 percent of the mass, should first be mixed and then blended with a carrier. Nutritionists usually prefer the premix be formulated for inclusion at approximately 5 percent to increase the likelihood of consistent and complete dispersion.

Also, check the scales to ensure that they are accurate. If they are, then ensure the correct amount of each ingredient is being added and the ration does not call for an amount more precise than you can measure or effectively add to the mixer. Rations should be formulat­ed only to that degree of precision that can be achieved. Small incon­sistencies can have a substantial effect on uniformity.

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Plant food helps produce more feed

What do you see when you look at a forage stand? A source of livestock feed or a commodity to be sold? The more forage you have, the more cattle you can feed. Fertilizer is a principal input cost for a forage crop. There are no substitutes or shortcuts for providing adequate nutrients. Cutting back on fertilizer will likely cost more over the long run because of decreased yields and stand longevity.

When you add up all the pas­ture, grass hay, alfalfa, corn and sorghum-sudan silages, millets and grazing small grains, forages account for the most acreage of any U.S. crop, yet they continue to be neglected when it comes to fertiliza­tion. The majority of grazing lands receive no fertilizer of any kind. The resulting low forage yield and daily rate of gain are widely accepted on land with low perceived value.

It is good to look for ways to reduce fertilizer costs, but it’s all about efficiency of production. Indiscriminate reductions in fertil­izer will likely lead to reductions in yield and an increase in the unit cost of hay. Cutting costs in forage production should be done in a way that has minimal impact on forage yield.

Make the investment in fertilizer more efficient by using soil test re­sults. If you do not soil sample and apply fertilizer and/or lime based on the results of those tests, it is likely that the appropriate amount is not being applied. If nutrients are under-applied, the result is forage yield below its potential. If over-ap­plied, then costs were incurred that won’t produce a positive response. Few other practices in forage pro­duction can improve the profitabili­ty more than soil testing and follow­ing fertility recommendations.

Apply fertilizer to fields where soil test values indicate an economic response and where the soil pH is in the optimum range. If the soil pH is too high or too low, you won’t get a good return on investment. Rather, first focus on adjusting the soil pH in those fields. If the pH drifts much below 6 or much above 7, the availability of some nutrients in the soil will decrease. For exam­ple, a pH difference of 5.6 versus 6.2 can effectively reduce the value of nitrogen fertilizer by as much as 35 percent, phosphorus by as much as 50 percent and potassium by as much as 10 percent.

Lime is a key ingredient to im­proving soil fertility. Since water is required for lime to react with the soil, effects of a lime application will be slower in dry conditions. It often takes six months to a year before a response can be measured, even under perfect circumstances. However, a response may be ob­served within weeks of application when soil pH is extremely low. In areas where needed, it is important to apply lime immediately after the growing season or crop removal to allow it to react and correct soil pH before the next growing season.

Nitrogen is usually the most limiting element in forage produc­tion. This major nutrient is involved in chlorophyll development for photosynthetic activities, yield and forage quality. Nitrogen, however, requires some timing and proper manipulations to get good yields and reduce losses. Splitting N applications will reduce the risk of leaching, volatilization and nitrate toxicity.

Nitrogen-use efficiency can be significantly increased by phospho­rus fertilization. Optimal soil phos­phorus level should be between 30-40 ppm. If the P level is low, it could allow only 40-60 percent of total hay production. In the spring, P is a crucial nutrient in promoting the development of new roots and tillering. Phosphorous can be ap­plied to a hay field any time of year since it is very stable and available to the plant when needed. When fertilizing annual crops, however, P should be applied before planting. Avoid spreading phosphorus fer­tilizer when there is risk of runoff, which is the primary way this nutri­ent is lost from soils.

Potassium allows plants to survive in cold weather and sustain produc­tivity during drought. It is involved in many metabolic processes in the plant. There is a very low environ­mental risk with K applications. The major inefficient use of K is a phenomenon called “luxury con­sumption,” in which forage crops take up more K than required for optimum growth. To avoid this, K should be applied in two or more split applications during the hay season. The environmental risk posed by K is low, but care must be taken to ensure it is used efficiently.

Yes, fertilizer can be expensive, but it’s still a bargain when com­pared to dragging down yield and the cost of renovating perennial forage stands. Proper plant food applications will pay off in extra forage and feed for your livestock

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