Should cows be kept in the corn field?


COLUMBUS – Four rows of corn in a field less than a mile from the Ohio State campusis getting close attention from two university researchers.

To fulfill their hopes, all the corn has to do is keep standing until spring. So far it has withstood rain, snow, wind, insects, and wild animals.

The “standing” corn is being tested as a potential alternative forage crop, to extend the grazing season for cattle through the winter months.

If tests are successful, the practice of “strip grazing” could provide a cheap and convenient method for farmers to keep their cattle healthy.

The project is part of a larger collaboration among researchers in Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri to improve the profitability and productivity of the beef industry.

Project leader Dave Zartman of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center hopes the corn will replace or augment standard winter grazing feed.

Standard winter feed includes stockpiled fescue grass, which is difficult for cattle to reach through deep snow, and hay, which is more expensive than corn. The corn plus mineral supplement also would provide the energy and nutrient requirements that cattle need.

Stockpiling feed through winter can be expensive and inconvenient for the farmer when factoring in labor, feed hauling, storage and removal, and equipment, Zartman said.

“Our goal is to make it worthwhile for the farmer to get away from those aggravations by having a crop that can be strip-grazed, while stockpiling enough feed to make it through winter.

“If we don’t find a way to reduce production costs, farmers won’t be able to keep up competitively.” Rhonda Gruber, an Ohio State graduate research associate in the animal sciences department, is studying how well the standing corn holds up to winter conditions, insects, wild animals, nutrient degradation and mold content.

Gruber says preliminary data have yielded positive results.

“We’ve found very little mold, no insect or wild animal problems and only a few of the stalks have fallen over due to wind,” Gruber says.

The nutrient analysis has not yet been completed. So far, the study has yielded 70-100 bushels of grain per acre, more than the researchers had expected, with data to be compiled through March.

We expect to lose about half of the feed availability,” Gruber says. “With what’s still standing come March, we want to see how feasible it is to have such a practice available. We are then going to conduct livestock trials and study factors like management and consumption patterns.”

Analyzing corn as an alternative forage crop has not been widely researched, which leaves many questions to be answered, Gruber says.

Some of the questions researchers hope to answer are:

* Which corn varieties best withstand winter conditions?

* How many head of cattle can be fed with standing corn?

* How much money could a farmer save, if any?

The researchers do know that strip grazing works. Farmers in Argentina allow cattle to feed on standing corn to recoup the costs lost when harvesting becomes too expensive.

Zartman says strip grazing keeps cattle healthy because manure is distributed outside rather than in a barn, and cattle live in the fresh air, cutting down on disease.

Strip grazing also may help prevent animals from wasting feed and overeating, he said.


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