Stockpiling cool- or warm-season grasses is a time-tested method to fill forage gaps in the summer or extend the grazing season into the winter.
“Planting corn for stockpiled winter forage is an option for certain ruminant animals,” says Sjoerd Willem Duiker. “Using standing corn as a stockpiled forage eliminates or reduces the need to feed more expensive stored forages,” adds the Penn State associate professor of soil management and applied soil physics.
In Penn State’s Crops and Soils newsletter, Willem Duiker notes that mature corn has about 8.5 percent crude protein and 65 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN). This should be adequate to meet the nutritional needs of dry cows and mature bulls; other livestock classes will need additional supplementation.
When planting corn for winter stockpiling, the soil scientist suggests using a hybrid with high forage yield, high digestibility, and low fiber content. Important agronomic traits include good standability, hanging ears, good disease and insect resistance, drought tolerance, and high dry matter yield. Timely planting and proper fertilization are also important.
“One area that will be different for grazed corn is weed control,” Willem Duiker says. “Typically there is no need for postemergence herbicide applications, and any herbicides that are used need to have workable grazing restriction intervals.”
Willem Duiker also recommends interseeding a cover crop such as an annual ryegrass-red clover mixture. She notes that the cover crop can provide additional nutrition and help make the soil more resistant to compaction. Soil compaction, she says, is perhaps the biggest threat to winter grazing when the soil is not frozen. “Select well-drained fields where you plan to graze corn into the winter and keep cattle out of the field when the soil is too wet,” Willem Duiker adds.
To reduce waste, strip grazing is recommended for stockpiled corn. Movable electric fence can be used to allocate a three-day or less allotment of feed. Willem Duiker also suggests using a backfence to help minimize soil compaction.
For more information on grazing standing corn, Willem Duiker references this Ohio State University extension factsheet.