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Keep corn as an option when feeding cattle

Rodger Hovde, left and Talbot Bergsma, corn specialist with Dow AgroSciences talk about corn production.

Don’t be afraid of growing corn for silage or grazing. It is cost effective and an excellent winter grazing or feed source…that was the take home message for me from a corn field day near Camrose in central Alberta this week.

I spent a couple hours at the Corn Ranches customer appreciation and demo plots tour hosted by Rodger and Tanas Hovde who have been seriously in the corn producing/consulting and overall grazing management business for more than a dozen years. They run a 250 head cow/calf operation themselves, but first connected with the potential of corn during some dry growing seasons right around the BSE crisis era. Visit their new website at: or email: [email protected]

They can and will sell you corn seed if you’re interested but their main focus is how to grow it and use corn primarily for winter grazing or in silage. They can also advise you on pasture management systems, fencing equipment, stock handling equipment, consulting on crop insurance and overall farm risk management. And they do custom seeding with corn planters as well. They have customers across central and north-central Alberta, and over into Saskatchewan.

Tanas Hovde explains about growing degree units.

At the field day at their farm just north and east of Camrose they ran through some production tips at some small corn plots in the farmyard. Also near the yard they had a demonstration of non-corn pasture blends that included annual rye grass, forage turnip and radish as well as forage brassica. There was an electric fencing demonstration as well.

Down the road about a mile were the large field scale corn plots demonstrating 40 different corn varieties from seed companies including Maizex, Pioneer Hybrid (Dow AgroSciences), and Pride.

It was an information-packed day. Here are a few corn production tips I noted:

  • Don’t get hung up too much on corn variety. There are plenty of good ones supplied by the various companies. Don’t pay a lot of attention to how corn is grown in Iowa or even southern Alberta. All varieties will perform a bit differently depending on the region where they are grown. A variety grown in Manitoba will perform differently if seeded in B.C.
  • One of the most important aspects of growing corn is to have a good seedbed, and get good seed-to-soil contact. Pick a variety and use good/proper agronomics…good weed control and proper fertility.
  • 30-inch row spacing has been proven to be just about ideal. Some people go wider and some may consider narrower, but 30 inch works.
  • For most grazing and silage applications aim to seed 32,000 seeds per acre. It may vary a bit with variety, but ideally you want to see between 30,000 and 35,000 plants per acre.
  • While it goes against commonly used direct seeding practices for grains and oilseeds, for best results with corn seed into a black
    This was one field plot demonstrating corn direct seeded into sod...appeared to be doing okay.

    seedbed. Soil temperature is critical for corn. Ideally soil temp should be at least 10C and 14C is optimal. That black soil will begin absorbing heat earlier in the year before the corn is seeded. Pea or barley silage stubble makes a good seedbed for corn. Too much crop residue is a negative.

  • With a seeding depth of 1 1/2 to two inches, into a firm, moist, weed free, black seedbed ideally you want all seeds to germinate evenly within a couple days of each other. Some farmers like to see all seedlings out of the ground over an eight-hour time frame.
  • By the time each plant is about eight inches tall all growth and yield potential has already been determined. Any late emerging corn almost serves as a weed to the rest of the crop.
  • Corn suitability is often defined by heat unit— that is a marketing term. What’s really important is the more scientific growing degree units.
  • A variety with 72 day or 110 day maturity refers to the time from seeding until the crop tassles out.
  • Corn with longer days to maturity will yield more than corn with shorter days to maturity.
  • Corn thrives on heat (warm temperatures). Ideally you want nighttime temperatures to be above 5C at night.
  • Corn is relatively drought tolerant, and requires less moisture than barley for example. Corn uses about 60 per cent less moisture than a barley çrop.
  • For most silage and winter grazing applications, it isn’t a concern if the corn crop produces tillers. And while most field corn typically produces one cob per stalk, some varieties, some years will produce two cobs. That’s not a bad thing.
  • Selecting varieties depends on a number of factors. What is the end use? Silage or grazing? And if you’re producing silage is it for beef or dairy cattle? Are you looking for quality or volume? If you’re producing silage are you hauling it half a mile or seven miles to a pit? The answers to all these questions can affect variety decisions.
  • Corn can be grown on the same field back to back over different seasons, but much like other crops, just know that multiple croppings increases the risk of disease and increased pests such as corn borer and corn root worm.

    Some of the field day plots showing 40 different corn varieties.

There is lots to know about growing corn. These are only a few of the tips. Obviously the geographic range for producing corn has increased considerably over the past few years. According to the Hovdes it is a crop to consider if you are feeding cattle in Western Canada.

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]










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Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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