Management Recommendations for Corn Grazing

  From the October 30, 2017 Issue of Agri-News
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 With more corn varieties becoming available, cattle producers across Canada are increasingly looking at grazing whole plant corn as a viable winter feeding option.

“Corn is a crop that grows two and a half to three times the biomass of small grain cereals on less land,” says Bart Lardner, Western Beef Development Centre, Saskatchewan. “Another attraction may be that this is a crop that actually exceeds the nutrient requirements of a beef cow in her first and second trimester of pregnancy. In some cases, during the cold winter months, there may not be a need to provide additional supplementation.”

There are several benefits to grazing corn, says Lardner, but cattle producers should be cautious of ruminal acidosis, or grain overload.

“Some of the issues with corn grazing are that cattle are very selective and will pick out the tastier part of the plant, the cob, which has a lot of starch. If cows are allowed to go out there and access just cob, there is going to be a rumen acidosis issue. That first killing should be at the half milk line so you get a balance of starch and fibre per acre with 50 per cent starch and 50 per cent fibre. The fibre comes from the leaves, the stock, the stover, and the tassel and the starch is coming from the cob itself.”

Recent work at the Western Beef Development Centre has looked at ways of reducing the risk for ruminal acidosis.

“We’ve have done some research looking at three vs. nine-day allocation of feed with or without a fibre source. The fibre source may be an older hay, lower quality hay, or maybe a straw bale to help mitigate the risk for rumen acidosis and buffer the rumen to prevent the pH from dropping and causing digestive upsets. Some of the research suggests adding a fibre source while cows are grazing whole plant corn and maybe limiting them to that three to four day allocation.”

The rumen takes time to adapt so Lardner suggests that, if going from pasture to grazing corn, to give cows about 7-10 days for the rumen to adjust to the difference in the ration by slowly introducing them to the new crop rather than giving them a shock or abrupt change in diet over a 24-hour period.

“The bottom line is that producers should do their homework, talk to lots of agriculture and agronomy experts, and/or other producers who use corn grazing before setting out. You should start small to make sure you get the most ‘bang for your buck. Corn is a high input cost crop but our research has shown that you are able to reduce cow costs per day grazing corn compared to tradition dry-lot systems.”

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is offering a free webinar on corn grazing management on October 12, 2017. To register, go to the BCRC website.

Tracy Herbert
Extension and Communications Director
Beef Cattle Research Council

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This information published to the web on October 5, 2017.