By DOUG GRAVES
WOOSTER, Ohio — Now that the corn harvest is in, many farmers will let the stubble go until next spring. But some experts say growers could find extra value in their post-harvest crop residue as a supplemental livestock feed.
“Considering that an estimated 50 percent of the total corn plant yield remains in the field after harvest, those acres harvested for corn can represent a potential forage source that is often overlooked,” said Rory Lewandowski, Ohio State University extension agriculture and natural resources educator.
“With forage supplies tight this year, this residue could be beneficial.”
The drought of 2012 has been one of the worst on record, leaving many livestock producers short on hay and silage. The lack of substantial rainfall, extreme heat and aridity left many producers looking for any alternative forage supplies.
“This corn residue is out there and sometimes not utilized at all,” Lewandowski said, calling it an “overlooked resource that can be a significant benefit for producers.”
According to Lewandowski, while most of the harvest residue is the stalk, there are also leaves, husks, some corn grain and cobs that remain. “Drought-stressed corn often yields more grain in harvest residue because some of the stressed stalks are susceptible to breaking, lodging and dropping ears, leaving more stalks and ears that don’t pass through combine.”
Often, post-harvest residue is left on land simply because the farmer doesn’t raise livestock. Those who do raise animals might not consider it because cornfields typically aren’t fenced.
“By using an electrical fence, the livestock folks can let their cows graze harvested cornfields,” Lewandowski said. “It allows you to make use of some of these unused resources like cornstalks without having to invest a lot of time or money.”
Experts at OSU say cornstalks and corn residue don’t provide nutrients adequate for high production livestock such as dairy cows, young growing livestock or lactating beef cattle, sheep or goats. But it does well for dry cows, ewes or does that may be in early to mid-gestation.
Grazing rather than baling, they say, typically provides optimal use of corn residue, with the best use gained when livestock graze the field as soon after harvest as possible.
Growers can also use the corn residue as an ensiled product, wrapping bales in plastic, with corn residue at a moisture level of around 60 percent. It may be possible to push the moisture content to 55 percent, but the risk of poor fermentation increases with drier material.