The cold winter months are usually the most costly time of year to keep cows well-fed. Fortunately, most producers have options when it comes to carrying cows through winter.
In corn country, grazing stalks can be an affordable route. As a general rule, a corn field that produces 150 bu. per acre can handle a stocking rate of one cow per acre for 30 days, says Travis Meteer, beef cattle specialist and nutritionist with University of Illinois Extension.
“Continuously monitor cattle, their behavior and the amount of husk and leaf left in the field. Once the majority of the husk is gone, the feed value is relatively poor,” Meteer says.
The average rental rate for cornstalks is 25¢ per head per day. The rate can vary depending on fencing, access to water and length of the grazing season. However, corn growers might welcome the income, making negotiations favorable to a grazer.
When grazing cornstalks Meteer advises limiting the amount of supplemental feed for gestating, spring calving cows. Fall-calving cows or stockers probably need to be supplemented with distillers grains or corn. Liquid protein tubs are an option too.
When it comes to feeding hay, Meteer suggests testing the nutritional quality. Most grass hay averages 12% to 15% crude protein, so cows will need additional energy, which is where corn comes into the ration.
“You can only feed so much corn to a cow without negative associative effects on fiber digestion,” Meteer adds. No more than 5 lb. to 6 lb. of corn should be fed per cow per day.
If feeding an annual forage hay, such as barley or sudangrass, run a nitrate test to limit the risk of toxicity.
A cover crop program might be an option too. “Annual ryegrass is fairly easy to establish, and it is the most productive of the cool-season annual grasses in terms of quantity,” says Vanessa Corriher-Olson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension forage specialist.
When overseeding ryegrass into established bermudagrass or bahiagrass, ryegrass can continue producing into June. In April or May, graze the ryegrass or harvest for hay to open the canopy for the warm-season perennial grasses to break dormancy.
Annual, cool-season forages, such as winter wheat, oats, small grain rye or ryegrass, might be an option too.