Corn stover makes excellent beef cow feed, run your numbers

Beef cow feeding utilizing crop residue

Many beef cow-calf producers overlook one of the most economical feed sources right in their back yards. MSU Extension suggests using corn residue, a readily available resource in the southern half of the lower-peninsula that can be economically grazed or mechanically harvested. When hay is in short supply or high priced, corn stover quickly becomes an economical beef cow feed.

Our first option would be to graze corn residue once grain is harvested.

General rule of thumb for grazing corn stover:

  • 30-35 days /acre/cow (assuming 150 bushel corn)
  • Seasonal and weather conditions may limit forage quality and availability
  • Feed quality declines every day cows are on corn stover
  • Supplemental feeding may be necessary to maximize utilization
  • Limitations include fence, water, location, soil compaction, climate, etc.
  • Spilled grain piles must be scattered or removed to avoid acidosis and risk of bloat

Mechanically harvesting corn stover:

In 2008, an applied research project in Ionia County unveiled the economics of corn stover baling. The objective was to harvest the maximum amount of plant leaf, husk and cob while leaving the bottom third of the stalk in the field. A combine with roller knife head effectively cuts the stalk at the designated height allowing the top two-thirds of the plant to be raked and baled. The chaff spreader was removed from the combine so the cob and husk material could be windrowed. Outside rows were then raked to the center windrow allowing for more efficient recover of husk and cob and leaf residue.

Yield results netted 1.6 tons of dry matter per acre and cost of $55 per ton of dry matter. Custom machinery rates were used along with $10 per ton for nutrient removal value. Bale size, hauling distance and corn yield will influence final cost.

Nutrition (feed analysis):

Corn stover is surprisingly palatable to beef cows and can significantly reduce cow feed cost immediately after weaning. Dry matter intake is generally reduced compared to average quality hay due to the lower palatability of the stalk. Intake results in 85-90 of the stover readily consumed by beef cows. The leftover stalk could be fed on top of hay bales or used as bedding. Corn stover does not meet cow protein requirements and supplemental protein feeding or alternating hay and corn stover can easily balance cow protein requirements. Feed analysis and rations balancing software should be considered to effectively calculate cow nutritional needs when changing feeding systems.

Feed analysis results comparing corn stover to average first cutting mixed hay

Corn Stover   Avg. Alf/Grass Hay  
TDN    2.92-5.07 (avg. 4.08)   12.70
 NEm  .57-.62 (avg. .60)  .53
 Phos  .10-.16 (avg. .13)  .27
 Ca  .42-.45 (avg. .43)  .84
 Pot  1.24-1.51 (avg. 1.36)   2.19      

Anyone with interest in learning more about grazing or mechanically harvesting corn stover can contact Kevin Gould, Jerry Lindquist or visit the MSU Beef Team website.

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