South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

Jan 2019

Doug Sieck’s cows have grazed standing corn for the past four years. Terry Gompert and an Alberta Ag Youtube video introduced him to the idea.

Sieck researched the practice prior to implementing it. The usual winter hay ration is 40 pounds of hay per cow per day. Current South Dakota alfalfa prices are approximately $100/ton, so the daily cost per cow runs $2.00. Corn is currently about $3/bushel. At 56 pounds per bushel, 10 pounds of corn/cow costs about 54 cents. Sieck supplements with alfalfa twice a week, about 15 pounds per cow per feeding or 30 pounds per week. The hay charge is about $1.50 per week or 21 cents per day. His total feed cost per cow is approximately 75 cents/day.

Sieck combined his field in a checkerboard pattern based on the average yield. Cutting around the edges of the sections to be grazed allow for easier fencing. Sieck is accustomed to moving the herd every day so each section is enough for one day’s grazing. For him that calculates out to 1/3-1/2 acre per day. Additional savings are realized by planting left-over seed and not combining the entire corn field. He also didn’t use as much fertilizer as usual. The forage corn follows a cover crop. Sieck uses a 1590 drill to plant corn in mid June. “I don’t think the stand has to be perfect,” he said. He sprays the corn for weed control.

Josh Lefers also grazes standing corn in Douglas County. He also credited Terry Gompert for the idea. He first attempted tried a management plan similar to Sieck’s. Last year pairs grazed on the corn with no hay supplements. He estimated 18 pounds per pair per day and moved them every 2-3 days. “They clean up most of the grain the first day and then pick through the stalks,” he said. He estimates a feed cost of $1/pair/day with $3 corn. “It carries the calves through at a low cost until a better market in March,” said Lefers. Calves are weaned shortly after coming off the corn. He appreciates the flexibility the grazing corn option adds to his wintering choices, and the small amount of land needed to feed several cows. Lefers rents the corn based on cur-rent prices.

Strong fences are essential. Both Sieck and Lefers use polywire. Sieck’s cattle are accustomed to polywire and respect it even though the corn and hay ration may not completely satiate them. He recommends training cattle to whatever type of fence will be used if they are not familiar with it prior to grazing standing corn. He sets up the next day’s fence the evening before moving the cattle as insurance against them pushing through into the entire field. Lefers has to run a second wire to keep a strong charge, especially in snow cover and also keeps a second barrier fence. He uses a cordless drill to set posts. Both men recommend starting the cows on corn, 2-3 lbs/head/day for a week or more prior to moving into the standing corn. Sieck offers free choice baking soda as a rumen buffer. A blizzard contingency plan should always be part of a South Dakota winter. Sieck maintains a feed wagon of corn in case he needs to move the herd to shelter. Sieck has had foot problems appear in the cattle, however he believes the savings are worth it. Lefers’ hasn’t treated any health issues but noted that the cattle may not do well for a week or so when coming off the corn as the rumen converts to digesting hay or grass. Grazing standing corn can be another tool for cattle to weather the winter; especially when hay is expensive or the cornfield has wind or hail damage.

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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