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.

Black calf eating corn cob on stalk in corn field.

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.

Herd of  beef cows grazing in standing corn in winter.

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.

Cow-calf herd walking through a harvested corn field in winter.

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.

Table 1. Forrest Grazing Corn Data
  Per Acre Per Field
Land Rent
$30
$660
Land Preparation
Disk 2 X
$15
$660
Spread Fertilizer
$6
$132
Seed with Grain Drill
$6
$132
Spray for weeds
$6
$132
Inputs
Corn Seed
$71,82
$1580
Fertilizer
38.05
$837
Roundup
5.73
$126
Total Prep costs
$193.59
$4259
Supplement
Cows, Screening Pellet
$33.13
$729
Calves, Creep
$43.09
$948
Hay, 1 bale / day
$123
$2700
Total Cost
$392.50
$8635
Grazing Days
344
7560
$ per head
$1.14
$8635

Data supplied by Bruce Forrest

Table 2. Winter Grazing Beef Cows with Standing Corn
Varieties P7443R DKC 27-54 P753R HLSR06 P7213R
Action
$4.80
$4.80
$4.80
$4.80
$4.80
Harrowing
$5.66
$5.66
$5.66
$5.66
$5.66
Cultivating
$91.54
$91.54
$91.54
$91.54
$91.54
Fertilizer
$7.50
$7.50
$7.50
$7.50
$7.50
Seed
$85.09
$82.50
$90.71
$73.13
$79.84
Seeding
$15.00
$15.00
$15.00
$15.00
$15.00
Roundup
$5.10
$5.10
$5.10
$5.10
$5.10
Spraying
$2.86
$2.86
$2.86
$2.86
$2.86
Total
$217.54
$214.96
$223.17
$205.58
$212.29
Grazing (Days)
1893
1755
2070
810
1068
Days / Acre
305
258
318
145
205
$ / Head / Day
$0.71
$0.83
$0.70
$1.42
$1.03

Western Beef Development Centre Factsheet #2012.03

Tips for grazing corn

  • Use electric fence. If the cattle are trained to respect the current in electric fencing, one strand is usually sufficient to contain livestock. Make sure to spend the time to train the cattle to respect electric fence prior to turnout in the corn.
  • Make sure the ground is dry or frozen before turning the herd into the field. If the ground is wet, cows will get dirty, pugging can occur, and corn stalks get pushed into the mud and not eaten.
  • Sample your corn plant. Chop up some whole corn stalks, making a representative feed sample. Send it away for a feed test. Cows need energy, which the corn plants will have. Calves may need some protein supplementation.
  • Review your mineral supplementation. Corn is lower in calcium than a legume based hay. You may need to use a higher calcium to phosphorus mineral to balance the ratio. Providing some legume based hay can also give the animals calcium. Feeding hay will also increase the amount of rumen degradable protein, allowing the rumen to make better use of the corn stalk as an energy source.
  • Limiting the access to cows to the standing corn is important. Cows can overload on grain if they can free choice pick and choose between corn cobs and stalk. Make sure and check the cows and calves to make sure they are not getting too much grain. Watch their feces. If the manure is too runny, they may be getting too much grain.
  • Force the cows to clean up as much residue as possible. An article from Manitoba recommends no more than 2000 kg/ha of residue left behind.
  • Have a backup feeding strategy in case of bad weather or excess snow.

Extending the grazing season:

  • Reduces feed costs
  • Let's the cow spread the manure herself
  • Reduces labour and machinery costs
  • Reduces reliance on stored feeds.
  • Corn is a good choice for winter grazing as it stands up well in the snow

References:

www.foragebeef.ca/grazingcattleoncorn

Western Beef Development Center Factsheet 2012.03


For more information:
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