“Grazing cornstalks is arguably the best cost-saving strategy that Midwestern cattlemen can deploy,” says Travis Meteer, extension educator with the University of Illinois.

In a recent news post in The Cattle Connection, Meteer offered answers to some commonly asked questions about grazing cornstalks.

How long can cornstalks be grazed?

According to Meteer, this depends on the stocking rate and the available cornstalk dry matter available. A general rule of thumb is that stalks from 1 acre of 150-bushel corn can feed one cow for 30 days. Though this is a good budgeting guide, Meteer challenges producers to always monitor their cattle and the cornstalks that they’re grazing. Once the majority of the dropped grain and husk get consumed, the feed value declines dramatically.

How much should be paid to rent cornstalk acres?

Meteer suggests a base price of 25 cents per head per day for fall-calving, gestating cows. Factors such as fencing, water availability, grazing season length, trucking, stocking rate, and weather challenges can all influence the final price. Be sure to have the rental agreement in writing.

Is soil compaction an issue?

Though generally not a concern, Meteer notes that areas around the waterer or feeder will be the most susceptible to compaction. Cows left in the field into late winter or early spring raises the risk of soil compaction.

Is a feed supplement needed?

Meteer reminds cattlemen that cows will eat the more digestible and higher protein feed components first. In the early grazing period, only mineral supplement is needed unless the herd includes fall-calving cows or stocker calves. For these higher requirement cattle, an energy and protein supplement will be necessary to meet their nutritional demands. For gestating cows, a supplement will be needed after the first month or so to meet energy and protein needs.

Is it worth baling cornstalks for feed?

Stalks can be baled but this adds costs in the form of fuel, labor, equipment, and nutrient removal. According to Meteer, cornstalks may still be economical to feed even with these additional expenses. He suggests hauling manure back to the harvested fields as a means of offsetting crop nutrient removal. The fertilizer value of a 1,200-pound round bale is around $12.

Will grazing cornstalks hurt next year’s crop yield?

Meteer cites a three-year University of Illinois research study that found no statistical yield difference following cornstalk grazing compared to when stalks weren’t grazed. The researchers did note reduced corn yields around high-traffic areas such as near waterers and mineral feeders.

A 10-year study from the University of Nebraska showed a 3-bushel yield advantage for soybeans following cornstalk grazing compared to nongrazed fields. Overall, Meteer suggests that allowing cattle to graze cornstalks has limited impact on subsequent crop yields.