Winter Grazing Tips

RANGE_EAST & DR. BRUCE ANDERSON – Corn Stalk Quality After Weathering. Recent rainfall, and even snow, may be good for wheat and next year’s crops, but it does have its drawbacks.  One challenge is this moisture’s impact on corn stalk feed quality.

Rain in the fall usually is welcomed despite the delays it causes with crop harvest.  Pastures and alfalfa benefit from extra growth and winterizing capabilities.  Wheat and other small grains get well established as do any new fields of alfalfa or pasture.  And the reserve moisture stored in the soil will get good use during next year’s growing season.

But rain, as well as melting snow, also reduces the feed value of corn stalks in fields that were already combined, and even on standing stalks.  Last week many fields had some pretty heavy rain and snow on those stalks.

Moisture reduces corn stalk quality several ways.  Most easily noticed is how fast stalks get soiled or trampled into the ground when fields are muddy.

Less noticeable are nutritional changes.  Moisture soaks into dry corn stalk residue and leaches out some of the soluble nutrients.  Most serious is the loss of sugars and other energy-dense nutrients, which lowers the TDN or energy value of the stalks.  These same nutrients also disappear if stalks begin to mold or rot in the field or especially in the bale.  Then palatability and intake also decline.

There is little you can do to prevent these losses.  What you can do, though, is begin to supplement a little earlier than usual.  Since this weathering reduces TDN more than it reduces protein, consider the energy value of your supplements as well as its protein content.

Weathered corn stalks still are economical feeds.  Just supplement them accordingly.

Supplementing Protein When Winter Grazing. Every day you can graze corn stalks or winter pasture saves you fifty cents to a dollar compared to feeding hay or silage.  Protein supplements are critical to your success, though.

Winter grazing saves lots of money and usually takes less labor than feeding cows all winter.  But these advantages become meaningless if cows don’t stay healthy or loose condition due to a lack of protein.

Why is protein so important?  In ruminants, like cattle, protein is used twice – first by the microbes in the rumen that are digesting the fiber in the corn stalks and winter grass and secondly by the animal.

For the microbes to digest these low quality forages, the diet must contain at least seven to eight percent protein.  Otherwise the microbes become protein deficient and are unable to work effectively.  When this happens, the amount of energy the animal receives from the forage is low and the animal becomes energy deficient.  So one major reason to supplement protein with winter forages is to make sure the microbes are fed properly so your animal does not become energy deficient.  In other words, protein increases energy.

The protein supplement you use is important.  Many cheap protein sources contain mostly urea and other forms of non-protein nitrogen.  These supplements are less effective at this time of year when cattle are eating mostly winter forages that contain low energy.

Instead, use supplements that contain more all-natural protein.  Alfalfa often is the cheapest natural source of protein, but other sources also work well.

Winter grazing can reduce winter feed costs and labor.  Feed the right protein with it, and you will be successful.

Bruce Anderson, Extension Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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