Many cattlemen are beginning to look beyond the immediate feed needs toward feed options for the upcoming year. Forages are in short supply due to dry growing conditions throughout the beef producing regions of the U.S. The drought-shortened corn crop will be in demand by livestock as well as ethanol. Other grain and commodity feeds that can substitute for grain are in equal demand and any bargains will be short lived.

So what are the options? What feeds might be substituted if they are available. What are some potential opportunities? Answers to these questions will become clearer as the size of this corn crop and the total availability of other feeds become known. However this column will touch on some feeds and opportunities for producers to keep their eyes out for as well as some considerations for planning.

Options for Cow Herds
There is no question that the hay crop was short and will be insufficient to meet the winter feed needs for many beef producers. The good news is that haying conditions were excellent and the quality of the limited hay that was produced is superb. Producers are encouraged to save the higher quality feeds for periods where the cows have high nutrient demand. Here are some options that are still available for feed for cows.

The quality of CRP hay will vary due to the species present and management. However, with an August 2 or later harvest date, it will all be quite mature.

Based on 156 samples collected in 1992 and 1993 by Iowa Beef Center staff, the average total digestible nutrients (TDN) was 50.9%. Crude protein was 9.7%. More recent samples of CRP hay have been similar on average. The fact that CRP hay is low in quality does not mean it cannot be useful in a beef cow diet. However, it should be fed during periods with the requirements of the cow are low (early gestation and after weaning), or supplementation will be required.

To demonstrate this, the figure below shows the TDN requirements (%, Dry Matter Basis) for an average beef cow in good condition based on the stage of production (month after calving). This forage meets this cow’s requirement from weaning until the last 1/3 of gestation. If are looking to establish a value for CRP hay based on the cost of harvesting and the reduced payment, IBC beef specialists Joe Sellers and Garland Dahlke have developed a spreadsheet available for free download from the Iowa Beef Center website.

Drought year feed options

Corn stalks
Corn stalks will be similar in energy (TDN) to the CRP hay, but lower in protein. This is one feed that should be in abundance this fall if harvest conditions are right. For producers who have the option of corn stalk grazing, this is the one single lowest cost feeding system for Iowa beef herds.

Drought silage
Corn silage harvested under drought conditions can be variable in nutritional value, but it’s generally higher than might be expected. Silage that is normal height but stressed during pollination, or that would have grain yields in excess of 50 bushels per acre, will have 90-100% of the feeding value of normal corn silage. Of course, yields will be decreased.

Only the stunted, severely stressed corn will have significantly lowered energy values, but still will be at or above the value of good quality grass hay. The reason for the greater than expected energy values is that much of the sugar that would normally be converted to starch in the grain remains in the stalk. Some sample rations that utilize drought corn silage can be found in the publication “Feeding Drought Corn Silage to Beef Cows” on the IBC drought resources web page

Producers should be aware that drought silage has the risk of containing nitrates, which can be toxic to beef cattle at high levels. Tests of immature corn during this growing season confirmed that this is an issue. The ensiling process can reduce the nitrates that are present by 30-80%, depending on the quality of fermentation. Producers are encouraged to test silage before feeding and if it is high blend it with other feeds to a safe level. If you are unsure, talk to your veterinarian or ISU Extension and Outreach beef program specialist.