North Central Research Extension Center


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Cattle Comments-Cows and Corn Fields

August 4, 2004

One of the opportunities for cattle producers in farm country is to utilize failed crops as harvested feed or seasonal grazing. While corn acres in the state have been increasing there is a concern, this year particularly, in northern regions that frost might beat a harvestable grain crop to the finish line.

Cutting and silageing corn froze before maturity is a good option. Immature corn silage has very good feed value however its energy content will be less than corn with good cob development and grain fill. Making silage from frosted corn requires close monitoring of moisture content to insure leaf material is not lost and it is harvested at an optimum moisture for packing and ensiling.

Where chopping equipment isn’t available or the distance for hauling is excessive there may be interest in trying to bale up damaged corn for feed. If the corn isn’t too tall it can probably be windowed and many of todays balers will pick it up and roll it into bales. However, it is unlikely late cut corn would ever dry to acceptable moisture for storage in a bale and be prone to considerable spoilage and rot. On a limited basis some corn left late to dry as much as possible, and baled under cold temps, could be utilized if fed up relatively soon. Better options would be wrap the bales with plastic to make baleage or pile as silage in the field and haul to cattle as needed and fed.

Although some field waste and loss is likely, a reasonably good option is late season grazing. The trampling loss is partially offset by less harvest expense. This of course requires temporary fencing, a source of water, and some wind protection against early winter storm. Corn grazing trials have produced from 100 to 200 cow grazing days per acre dependent on snow cover, field moisture, and crop yield. Producers which have grazed late season corn have found trampling loss can be minimized if fields are split into a couple week allotments and, if snow becomes excessive fields can be cleaned off in the spring. Health and digestive risks exist relating to nitrate poisoning and grain overload but have not been major concerns.

A significant issue in using frosted corn for cattle forage is that many corn acres are on operations without cattle or in areas where hay and feed supplies are plentiful. High bulk and moisture corn needs to be fed where or close to where it is produced. This presents an opportunity for cattle producers and corn farmers to build relationships as well as producers from feed short to feed surplus regions to arrange for cattle movement and care.

For many corn producers plan A is to combine, dry, store, and sell cash corn grain. However, late planting and cool temperatures, should have farmers and ranchers anticipating a plan B which may include harvesting silage, late season grazing, or feeding cattle.

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