South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

Sept 2021

Late summer rains in much of the state have boosted cool-season grasses extending fall grazing, but many producers harvested a minimal amount of hay to get them through the winter. With high hay prices, producers are looking at less expensive ways to supplement existing hay supplies.

Even in western SD, corn and soybean residues are more available as feed and forage sources than they were a decade or two ago. Corn can be used as a supplement, grazed, baled, or made into silage. The Grassroots article explains how Doug Sieck, from Selby, grazes standing corn. He plans to use shelled corn to supplement this year. He figures his cost at $7/ bushel 10# of corn is $1.25 per cow per day. $100 hay is $.05/lb. making his 10# of corn and 10# of hay feed costs about $1.50 per head per day. He also plans to graze a neighbor’s corn stalks. He baled his sudan grass cover crop instead of grazing it because, with a bare minimum hay supply, he didn’t want to risk losing it to snow.

Soybeans are a little trickier to use as forage. In a YouTube video entitled “Using Soybeans as Forage” by SDSU Extension and the Soil Health Coalition, Univ. of MN Associate Extension Professor Eric Mousel lists management considerations. Beans at the R4 stage of maturity or less are suitable for grazing. Strip grazing is recommended to avoid waste from trampling. Palatability can be an issue due to dirt and cattle might balk at unfamiliar feed. Mature beans at the R5 stage or later should be managed differently than less mature beans because ammonia can build up in the rumen. These stages of soybeans are best ground and mixed with other hay.

Sieck grazed soybeans in 2006. The beans ran about 5 bushels/acres and were about 6 inches tall. “The cows were kind of gassy and smelled different,” he recalled. It took the cattle a few days to adjust to the different feed, but they did fine on the beans.

One thing to consider when grazing crop residue is the herbicide/pesticide history of that crop, particularly if selling into a certified program. Many herbicides are not recommended for a forage/feed situation or require a waiting period. Grazing and feeding restrictions should be on the label. Soybean herbicides have many more restrictions than corn herbicides. The restrictions exist because research on how chemical residual affects animals is incomplete.

Dried distiller’s grain is also an inexpensive feed source that can help balance poor-quality feed. At approximately $210/ton the price is competitive with alfalfa. Adding salt to distillers can help animals self-limit their intake. It’s not a new idea as Lyle Perman mixed salt with corn or soybean meal during dry years in the past. Luke is planning to use a variation of that method with DDG with help from nutritionist Case Blom. The basic idea is to mix up to 20% salt with grain stuff depending on how much you want them to consume per day. For example, 20% salt with five pounds of grain equals one pound of salt. That will vary depending on the type of cattle, feedstuffs, sodium in the water, and so forth. It’s best to talk to someone who has experience with it like Blom. Have plenty of water available! Blom also noted that some people are substituting 10-15 pounds of soybean hulls per head per day to replace hay. Non-GMO beans are available at the soybean plant by St. Lawrence.

Travis Mickelson of Mud Butte purchased baled cattails to supplement his winter feed supply. He’s used cattails before during dry years. His plan is to grind it together with some carryover hay and higher-quality hay from this year. He’ll mix the hay with wet distillers and corn to feed in bunks or tires to late spring calving cows. The cattails make up 25% or less of the ration. He plans to send in nutrition test samples and make adjustments accordingly. Some will probably be used for bedding. According to the University of Manitoba, young cattails are similar in nutritional value to cereal straws.

How to stretch that skimpy feed supply depends on the animal’s condition, age, and stage of pregnancy or lactation and what the producer is able to do efficiently. The best solution is what works best for the individual operation.

Garnet Perman is a freelance writer and ranches with her husband, Lyle, near Lowry, SD.

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