Grazing Corn in the Northwest
Bruce and Valve Forrest are constantly innovating on their beef farming operation. They have been direct marketing local beef years before local beef became a fad. They have bypassed owning a bull, using artificial insemination to get their cows pregnant, plus introduce top genetics into their herd.
Recently, another focus has been reducing feed costs. For the last few years, corn has been a big part of their nutrition package. Not grain corn, but standing corn, grazed to extend the cows' days on pasture, and reduce the amount of stored feed required to feed cows.
Bruce and Valve run a 40 head cow calf to finish operation. During the time period observed, 39 cow-calf pairs, and six replacement heifers grazed the corn. The calves were born in April, and would be 6-9 months old in the trial.
For the 2012 corn grazing season, Bruce kept complete records of the days grazing, and supplemental feed required to keep his cows out in the field until just before Christmas. Ordinarily by mid-September the cows would be getting stored forages. From September 16 to December 15, the cow calf pairs and replacement heifers on this farm grazed corn instead. The cows were strip grazed, moved daily to a new section of corn.
Moving fence can be tricky with cows looking to surge past you into a new section. Bruce supplemented the cows and calves daily during fence moving time to distract the animals. The cows received 2 lbs per day of a screening pellet, and the calves 3 lbs per day of a creep ration. While they were eating this, Bruce would move his fence forward. The beefers also had access to a bale of dry hay daily, to make sure they always had gut fill.
Labour to move fence daily, plus provide supplemental feed was 1 hour. This cost was not added to the direct cost total.
What were some of the direct benefits that the Forrests observed? The cows were very healthy, with lots of exercise in going out to the corn field daily. Manure was spread over the ground on a consistent basis, not piled up to be spread at a later date. The cattle gained weight. Over the 90 days, the cows gained about 1 lb/ day. The calves performed very well, averaging 2.4 lbs per day weight gain. But were there any significant savings?
The Forrests used their own equipment to prepare the ground and plant the corn. The ground was disked twice, nitrogen spread, and using their own seed drill, the corn was planted. Weed control was Roundup, a broad leaf herbicide. All costs in, the corn was $193.59 per acre to grow. Total costs, including the supplemental feed and hay rose to $8635.50.
Planting corn resulted in 90 extra grazing days. With 39 cows, 39 calves, and 6 bred heifers, this amounted to 7560 animal grazing days. The total cost for this was $1.14, well below the alternative cost of feeding stored hay to the animals in a confined area. The number of grazing days per acre was 343.
Performance did not suffer, animals were healthy, and costs were lower. Really, as Bruce sees it, there is a lot of winning attributes to extending the grazing season with corn.
The Forrest results echo some similar trials from other parts of Canada. At the Western Canada Development Centre, corn grazing trials occurred in 2011. Costs and results are in Table 2.
Data supplied by Bruce Forrest
Western Beef Development Centre Factsheet #2012.03
Tips for grazing corn
Extending the grazing season:
Western Beef Development Center Factsheet 2012.03
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