It will soon be time to start thinking about next year’s winter feed. If you plan to graze your cows on corn next fall or winter, consider these recommendations on planting corn for grazing purposes from Breeanna Kelln, a PhD student at the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC) who also ranches near Duval, SK, and Dr. Bart Lardner, Senior Research Scientist at the WBDC:
1. First time? Start small
Corn is a high input crop. It requires more time and inputs at the beginning of the growing season than cereals used for grazing. Kelln says there is a learning curve for both the producer and the cattle, especially for cattle who have never been exposed to extended grazing. Lardner recommends starting small and planting only 5-10 acres to see how grazing corn can fit into your winter feeding program before committing to large amounts.
2. Choose the right site
To set up your winter grazing plots, make sure to choose sites that have access to water and a windbreak or natural shelter-belt. If a natural windbreak is not an option, be sure you have access to portable windbreaks prior to the grazing season.
3. Use a variety that works in your area
Varieties with lower heat units are becoming more readily available. Talk to your local agronomist about varieties that are known to grow well in your area to help maximize yields.
4. Start with your end use in mind
When growing corn for grazing, you want a different end product than that of silage or grain corn. For grazing corn, it is OK to have a higher percentage of biomass compared to cob and this can help prevent some issues with acidosis. Kelln notes that most of the problems they have ran into while grazing corn on their operation are due to having “too good” of a crop with too much energy in the cobs. Kelln suggests growing a variety that is 200-300 heat units longer than your area or pushing back your seeding date.
5. Use a corn planter not an air seeder
In studies done at the Western Beef Development Centre, researchers found that seeding with an air drill resulted in 15-20% less biomass per acre than when a corn planter was used. Lardner notes that corn planters are getting easier to find and producers could consider teaming up with their neighbours to buy one together.
6. Don’t seed into cold ground
Remember that corn is a warm season crop meaning that planting into cold soil causes stress on the seed and can affect emergence. Lardner says that with the high yield of corn, it is worth it to push back the seeding date until the soil temperature is at least 10oC and weather is entering a warming trend. The Western Beef Development Centre, located near Lanigan SK, often seeds corn in late May and gets high yields.
7. Soil test
As a high input crop, corn requires a lot of nitrogen so it is important to know the nitrogen content of your soils. Testing your soil saves time and money by determining the actual amount of nitrogen fertilizer that is needed for the crop.
8. Have an economic fertilizer plan
When grazing corn, most producers’ goal is to have a low-cost energy source. That is important to remember when choosing input costs. Kelln pointed out that for every pound of nitrogen you put in, a bushel is produced, so she recommends around 80lbs of N for grazing corn.
9. Control weeds
Until it is about knee high, corn is not a very competitive crop and does not do well with weed pressure. It is recommended that you talk to a local agronomist about the best weed management techniques for your area. Lardner suggests a good rule of thumb is to spray once before seeding and then twice more – once at the 4-leaf stage and next at the 8-leaf stage.
10. Have a backup plan and other sources of feed
Weather conditions during grazing and the growing season can have a major impact on the ability to graze corn. Both Lardner and Kelln recommend having a backup plan. Kelln also pointed out the importance of having supplemental feed on hand in case corn gets too mature (past the half milk line) before freezing.
She points out the importance of providing a fibre supplement for cattle during this time since the corn will be higher in energy than expected and may lead to acidosis. Kelln also noted the importance of having additional protein and calcium supplements available if you are planning on grazing cows in late gestation as corn alone doesn’t provide enough of these required nutrients.
For more information on grazing corn, watch this webinar recording by Dr. Bart Lardner and “click for more information” below it for additional links.
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