Due to the shortage of conventional forages and drought damage to many corn fields this year, cow-calf producers are feeding more corn silage than usual. South Dakota State University Extension beef specialist Julie Walker has conducted research showing limit-feeding corn silage can be a good option for overwintering beef cows. Corn silage typically has higher energy than normal beef-quality hay, so the cow’s energy requirements will be met with less total dry-matter intake of silage compared to a hay diet. However, protein supplementation may be needed, depending on the protein content of the silage, Walker says. The specific amount can only be determined by testing the feedstuffs and then balancing a ration. Also, following drought conditions last summer, it is important to test the corn silage for nitrates.

Walker also studied replacing some hay in the diet with corn. The diets were 0.5, 1 or 2 percent of the cow’s bodyweight, as hay plus corn, to meet the cow’s nutrient requirements. She found that the 0.5 percent of bodyweight of hay plus corn had the same performance as the 2 percent of bodyweight feeding hay alone. At calving time the cows were in similar body condition and no calving problems were found. However, she notes the importance of good fences in a limit-feeding program. The 0.5 percent and 1 percent hay treatments met the cows’ nutrient requirements but did not completely satisfy their appetites, so the cows were hungry during the adaptation period. All of these treatments were balanced for energy and protein to ensure the desired performance and fed as a total mixed ration using a mixer wagon.