Looking for a more cost-effective way to feed your cattle this winter? As the demand for hay continues to increase and prices continue to rise, many Midwest cattle producers are searching for cheaper alternatives to winter feeding.
"With more acres going toward corn and soybean production, acres in hay production are lower than normal," said Dan Shike, University of Illinois beef cattle nutritionist and professor in the Department of Animal Sciences. "The wet spring followed by an extremely hot and dry summer reduced hay production even further. Not only will hay be in high demand in the Midwest and Illinois, but extreme drought in the Southwest will also increase the national demand for hay."
U of I animal scientists have conducted many research studies on alternatives to feeding hay. Shike said one of the best alternatives available to Illinois cattle producers is the use of cornstalks and co-products such as distillers grains, corn gluten feed and soyhulls.
"Grazing cornstalks and supplementing co-products is likely the most economical option in Illinois," he said. "But there are several things to consider when contemplating this decision."
First, you need to identify a water source. Portable water tanks will work, but if you plan to graze into the winter, then you will want to consider a heating source for the water. In addition, producers must consider fencing options. Shike said temporary electric fence is relatively inexpensive and takes minimal time and labor to put up.
Two options exist for grazing cornstalks — continuous grazing or strip-grazing. Continuous grazing allows cows access to the entire corn field. Strip grazing divides the field up into strips and allows the cows access to a new strip every two weeks.
"Cows will select the residue in the order of corn grain, husks, leaves, and finally, stalks," Shike said. "If you allow the cows access to the entire field, they will eat all of the grain first. There are two potential problems with this scenario. First, the cows can actually eat too much grain. Second, in the process of searching out all of the grain, they can trample in the husks and leaves, which is more of a problem in wet years."
To determine stocking rates, Shike recommends factoring in stage of production and cow size to determine the cows' requirements.
"Corn yield will determine how much residue is available," he said. "When corn yield is high, the amount of residue available is high. If it is dry while you are grazing, the cows' harvesting efficiency is higher than during wet years when more residue will be trampled into the ground."