Turn Corn Stover to Low-cost Pasture

Corn stover can provide a low cost feed source for maintenance and mid-gestation ewes. The energy in a cornfield is half in the grain and half in the stover or plant material. Once the crop is harvested, half the feed energy remains in the field. The ewes can enjoy an additional benefit by gleaning the kernels and small cobs that passed through the combine.

Most fields will provide between one and two months of grazing with a stocking rate of 8 to10 ewes per acre. However, ewes should be monitored closely and body condition scores recorded, so that necessary supplementation can take place when required.

The feed value of the stalks will drop from harvest date, so the earlier in the season you can graze, the better. Initially the Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) value could be as high as 70 percent, but as the winter progresses this value will drop down into the 40 percent range. This decline is partly due to the weathering of the leaves and stalks, and partly due to the ewes eating high-value grain and leaves early in the grazing, leaving lower-value stalk material for later grazing.

Check the field for available grain - both kernels on the ground and small cobs missed by the combine. If there is a significant quantity, you may need to limit access so that the ewes don't overload on grain. Use temporary electric fence to strip-graze the field or restrict the grazing time to a few hours during the day. The ewes will tend to eat the grain first, then the husks and leaves and lastly the stalks. Control the size of the grazing area to help keep the energy level of the ewes' diet more uniform during the grazing period. Once the leaves and husks have been consumed, you should begin to supplement with good quality hay. A 150 pound ewe will require about three-quarters of a pound of good quality hay to meet her protein needs at this time.

Ensure that salt and mineral is freely available at all times. Provide an accessible source of water, since a ewe will consume up to one gallon of water per head per day, under cool conditions. Later in the season, clean fluffy snow can serve as an optional source of water.

Soil condition is also an important consideration for grazing corn stover. If the ground is wet, surface compaction of the soil can be severe. In a no-till cropping system, consider only fall grazing, waiting until the ground is frozen or selecting the driest fields with a low clay content to graze. Any fall damage to soil structure will be at least partially rectified by the freeze-thaw action over the winter. Damage in the spring will require tillage to rectify. The feed value of the stalks will be higher in the fall than in the late winter or spring. It will be to your benefit to graze the stalks during the fall and early winter and remove the ewes from the field before spring thaw conditions start. By managing the stover field as a pasture field (controlling the area being grazed and staying off it when soil conditions are wet), a producer can have the best of both the feed and crop worlds.


For more information:
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