|By ANN ALLEN
AKRON, Ind. — After a dry summer left him short on hay to feed his registered Shorthorn herd and his horses, David Sheetz looked no further than his cornfield for a viable replacement.
Like many Midwestern farmers, he has discovered that cornstalks can be used as a partial substitute for late fall pasture or winter hay.
Besides being cheaper than hay, which currently sells for $65 to $240 per ton, cornstalks used as forage actually constitute a second crop since more stalks are plowed back into the soil each year than the soil requires. This residue creates good feed.
According to the Iowa State University extension office, a ton of harvested cornstalks is worth about 50 percent of the value of grass hay per ton for feeding beef cows. If the buyer harvests the stalks, then a value of 25 percent of the hay grass is appropriate.
For Sheetz and other area farmers astounded that their hay crop was below normal while their row crops had excellent yields during the dry 2005 growing season, feeding cornstalks adds up to money saved while allowing them to utilize more of what they produce.
That’s not to say there aren’t drawbacks. The biggest one is that cornstalks lack the protein content of hay. Sheetz uses two bales of cornstalks plus one bale of hay per week for his 11 head of Shorthorns and two cutting horses, augmenting it with 200-pound protein lick tanks.
“The stalks are mostly roughage,” he said, “but the lick tank is 16 to 22 percent protein.”
While he prepares harvested cornstalks much as he would hay by chopping, raking and baling it, he’s learned the round cornstalk bales are trickier to handle than hay because they’re more likely to fall apart.
After suffering a heart attack 16 years ago, he’s always looking for labor-saving techniques, which explains why he ringed his barn with the baled stalks.
“They make a good windbreak and they’re close at hand when I need them,” he explained.
He simplifies feeding by using a utility tractor with a front-end loader to hoist the bales across the fence into his feedlot.
“The cattle work it loose and waste a lot,” he said, “but that doesn’t matter. I pile up manure, dirt and wasted stalks as compost. I stir it for up to eight months and then sell it for topsoil. It makes a value-added side product.”
Believing he has enough bales of cornstalks on hand to last until his pasture and hayfields begin to thrive again, he said with a wry grin, “Feeding cornstalks is a whole lot better than snowballs.”
This Indiana farm news was published in the November 30, 2005 issue of Farm World.