During winter, crop residue and stockpiled forage make an inexpensive feed source. Eventually, however, some producers end up having to feed hay, which can be expensive when hay supplies are short, points out Bruce Anderson, an agronomist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
One alternative might be to bale corn and milo stalks just like other hay crops, he suggests. “Baling some of your crop residues instead of grazing them often will increase the number of cow-days worth of feed from them by three or four fold. This can really help stretch hay supplies in many cases.”
Bale stalks as soon after combining as possible to minimize nutrient loss from your crop residues. Weathering after combining, especially rain, can lower the energy value of stalk hay, he says. This may mean cutting while stalks still are partially green, especially milo stubble, so be sure to let it dry long enough before baling for safe preservation.
Stalk hay has fair nutrient value, says Dr. Anderson, but some supplementing will be needed in most cases. “Average stalk hay could have anywhere from 4 to 7 percent protein with TDN somewhere in the 50s depending on the percent leaf and husk you get in your bales. If you remove the stalk chopper from the combine and just bale the two rows where the tailings drop, both protein and TDN can be quite a bit higher,” he points out. A forage test for protein and energy will be necessary to determine feeding options. And where there’s moisture stress, test for nitrates. “You probably won’t eliminate hay feeding entirely,” says Dr. Anderson, “but extending your supply using stalk hay might just might help.”