As the weather gets cooler it’s time to think about managing forage and your grazing options for the fall and winter. An option that should not be overlooked is grazing row crop residue. If managed correctly, this forage alternative can produce benefits for your herd, your pasture and your pocketbook.
Now is the time to be looking at stockpiling fescue and other cool season grasses in the pasture for winter grazing. Donna Goede of the Cedar County Extension Office said the bits of grain and plant left after grain harvest are an extra source of forage that can take pressure off your pasture and help extend your hay supply.
Corn and milo fields are the most common sources for crop residue grazing. Cattle forage on the left over grain, husks and cobs, leaves, and even the stalks – usually in that order. The palatability and nutritional value of these parts are quite different. The digestible protein and energy is considerably higher in the grain than in the leaves and the stalks. The leaves of grain sorghum are typically higher in digestible protein than corn leaves; however, cattle do not digest the grain as well. The nutritional value in crop residue is generally highest right after harvest and declines as the field weathers.
Soybean fields can be grazed, but the nutritional value and palatability of soybean residue is much lower than either corn or milo. Because soybean plants are high in lignin content, the protein and energy left after harvest is not readily digestible by cattle.
“For stock cows and big yearlings especially, grazing these fields makes a lot of sense.” Cole said the general rule of thumb is one acre per cow per month, but this can vary depending on the quality of forage in the field and the condition of the cattle.
Because cattle much prefer the more palatable parts left behind, they will typically roam through the field foraging these bits first before beginning to graze on the leaves and stalks. This can, in some instances lead to over eating the grain, and in extreme cases can produce founder. Cattle also are drawn to young sprouted grain. Young corn shoots can be high in nitrates while young milo sprouts can contain high levels of prussic acid. Both can be dangerous. Cole suggested that strip grazing, inspecting fields, and grazing crop fields soon after harvest are the best ways to effectively manage this practice.
Mark Kennedy, State Grazing Lands Specialist for the USDA/NRCS said that strip grazing not only is the most efficient way to manage cattle foraging grain fields, but it helps manage manure distribution, which will help grain production in the following season. Kennedy is one of the authors of “Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs,” a publication of the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative that is available online at You can also find information at your local NRCS office. In some cases grazing and crop operators are cooperating to maximize their mutual benefit from this foraging practice. If you have access to crop fields you own or rent, the fields have a good, legal fence and adequate water supply, turning cattle on them after harvest can extend your forage supply for months.


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