Limit-feeding corn silage can be a good option for overwintering beef cows while hay supplies are low, according to Julie Walker , South Dakota State University Extension beef specialist. She’s completed Purdue University research on that very subject.

Because corn silage usually has higher energy than typical beef-quality hay, it takes less total dry matter intake to meet a cow’s energy requirements. But protein supplementation may be needed, Walker says.

“The specific amount can only be determined by testing the feedstuffs and then balancing a ration,” she explains. “Also, with the drought conditions this summer, it is important to test the corn silage for nitrates.”

Her research at Purdue also studied replacing part of the hay in the diet with corn. The diets were 0.5%, 1%, or 2% of the cow’s body weight (BW) as hay plus corn to meet cows’ nutrient needs.

“We found that the 0.5% BW of hay plus corn had the same performance as the 2% BW of hay treatment. At calving time, the cows were in similar body condition and no calving problems were found. However, we did learn the importance of good fences. The 0.5% and 1% hay treatments met the cows’ nutrient requirements, but did not completely satisfy their appetites,” Walker says.

That meant cows were hungry during the adaptation period. All treatments were balanced for energy and protein to ensure desired performance and cows had adequate bunk space.

“We fed these rations as a total mixed ration using a mixer wagon. Some producers may not have a mixer wagon, so limiting the hay supply with this method may be difficult.” She suggests producers also read “Strategies to Control Hay Intake and Waste,” by Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension cow/calf field specialist.