By Dwayne Summach, PAg, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, Kindersley
Grazing standing corn is an extensive winter feeding practice that works in western Canada. While discussions often focus on the input cost of growing a corn crop and which variety to use, the success of corn grazing is based on the dry matter produced. Managing the cows to use as much of the corn plant as possible lowers the overall unit cost, reduces the amount of trash to deal with before seeding the next crop and provides a stable diet for the rumen microbes to process.
In an ideal situation, cows are allocated a fresh paddock of corn every day. The more practical management approach is to provide two to three days' worth of grazing at a time, but some producers continually challenge this advice and seek to stretch the moves to weekly or even monthly.
A study completed in 2015 and 2016 at the Western Beef Development Center at the University of Saskatchewan investigated the differences that occur when cattle were offered a fresh paddock of corn every three days versus every nine days, with and without supplemental hay. There were no differences between treatments for bodyweight, back and rump fat cover, body condition score or average daily gain. Differences were identified in the digestion processes and the economics.
The average cost per head per day when moving every three days was $1.60 versus $1.84 when they were moved every nine days. To most people, this is counter intuitive – it takes more time to move cows more often and is also more expensive. The study also identified that difference in yardage cost as $0.11 per head per day. More frequent moves resulted in better forage use – the cows ate more of what was grown, leaving less behind, resulting in more cows fed per acre. The cost of corn to feed the cows with moves every three days was $1.14 instead of $1.49 when moved every nine days. The $0.24 per head per day difference is the return on management effort as the labour for moving the fence was already accounted for in the yardage differential. Moving 100 cows 30 times instead of 10 times over three months is worth about $2,100 in improved feed use.
If you would like to know more details from this study, watch this short video clip or download Breanna Anderson's Master of Science Thesis.
To learn more about grazing corn, contact your nearest livestock and feed extension specialist or contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.