HOLLAND, Iowa -- Winters have gotten a whole lot easier for Fred Abels. The Grundy County farmer recently implemented a strip grazing standing-corn system for his fall-calving herd, and eliminated cold-weather chores like hay feeding and moving manure, all while saving feed costs.
It all started when Abels expanded his cow herd from 20 to 50 cows. "I knew I couldn't produce enough hay for 50 cows, and I wanted to find an on-farm feed source to keep money from going off-farm." After some conversations with specialists at Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and pioneering herdsmen who were already reaping the rewards of grazing standing corn, Abels decided to give it a try.
Abels' biggest investment was fencing materials, which included 100 posts and 6 reels of wire, totaling $638. Starting Dec. 5, his cows began strip grazing approximately .08 acres of standing corn and .04 acres of harvested stalks each day. Abels spent about fifteen minutes every day moving the fence.
"A big advantage for me was that while I was only spending about fifteen minutes moving fence, it gave me an opportunity to keep a close eye on my cows," says Abels. The only supplementation given to the cows was three pounds of corn gluten pellets per head per day, with an additional three pounds when the temperature was below zero. However, Abels explains that the additional gluten was only given about seven days, and "I know now that I was feeding excess, so I won't need to supplement the cows at all next year."
Daryl Strohbehn, ISU professor of animal science, and Russ Euken, ISU Extension livestock specialist, followed Fred's system and used estimates to compare standing corn grazing to a more traditional winter feeding system that included hay, cornstalks and corn. "In Fred's situation, we estimated the cows were consuming about 17-18 lbs. of corn grain and 8-9 lbs. of corn stalks per head per day which would meet the energy requirements and be slightly below the protein requirements for fall-calving cows nursing calves." Euken said.
With a $2 per bushel corn price, the cost of corn consumed was about $0.65 per head per day. The 3 pounds of gluten pellets added $0.14 per head per day. With a ration composed of $65/ton hay and $2 per bushel corn, the cost to meet the nutrient requirements is about $1.04 per head per day. In that case, protein is being overfed to meet energy requirements. Adding cornstalks (at $25/ton) to the ration will lower the cost to about $0.86 per head per day and more closely match both energy and protein requirements.
Strohbehn believes that there is potential for providing part of winter feed for spring calving cows using standing-corn grazing systems also. Cows that would be in the middle of or the first part of late gestation would need about 8.5 pounds of corn grain and 25 pounds of corn stalks daily to meet nutrient requirements. With 150-bushel corn, that is approximately .05 acres of unharvested corn per day for 50 cows. With $2 per bushel corn, the cost of feed is about $0.30 per head per day.
If producers consider using this kind of feeding system, they need to provide enough harvested cornstalks to the cows to provide enough dry matter for the cow. "In Fred's case, we estimated that the cows were consuming about thirty percent of the cornstalks from both the harvested and unharvested corn," said Strohbehn. That will vary and muddy field conditions would lower the amount of cornstalks available.
Are there any downsides to this system? Abels and Euken believe that like any grazing system, stripgrazing standing-corn has its own challenges. Giving some thought to how the strips and fence will be laid out to minimize the time and labor to move fence is recommended, and making sure cows are acclimated to corn in the ration before starting grazing the standing corn is necessary. Euken cautions that a good fence system is a must, since cows will be limit-fed corn.
Producers also need to make sure that all animals have access to the standing corn at the same time since it doesn't take long for the cows to consume the corn after being turned into the strip. Muddy fields during thawing periods would reduce the cows' ability to graze the cornstalks.
Even with the challenges, Abels is satisfied. "Everything went very well this first year," he says, "and we'll be doing again next winter."
For more information about standing-corn winter grazing, contact Russ Euken at (641) 923-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Daryl Strohbehn at (515) 294-3020 or email@example.com.