Ranchers looking to save costs associated with traditional drylot feeding systems are making the switch to grazing corn to keep beef herds healthy in winter months. There are many different winter grazing systems available to producers, including grazing standing whole plant corn. And, studies show producers won’t be sacrificing herd health for cost savings.
Assessing costs by the numbers
The winter feeding period for beef cattle in Western Canada is typically 200 days per year, making it costly to supply feed nutrients to pregnant beef cows. The cost for winter grazing cows, including yardage, may range from $0.70 to $1.40 per day, which is substantially lower than feeding stored forages — with no extra expenses related to corral cleaning, manure handling and facilities maintenance.
Selecting grazing corn hybrids
Approximately 65 per cent of the energy source in corn can be found in the grain. That means it’s vital for producers to select a hybrid with good ear production for grazing corn.
Producers should also be sure they’re selecting hybrid that are best suited to the corn heat unit ratings in their area. Ideally they’ll want the crop to freeze at the R5 stage, roughly the same time they would typically silage it. This will help to increase palatability.
Contributing to herd health
Older or younger cows may need time to adapt to a winter grazing system. Producers will need to know and manage the cow age by limiting winter grazing to their main cow herd.
Animals see no negative health impact, as they remain walking and physically active during the winter months, when they would traditionally be less active in a corral. Studies have shown that fall and winter grazing animals can result in improved cow body condition, postpone the onset of weight loss, and decrease costs.
In addition, winter systems can have a positive effect on nutrient cycling and soil health of the grazed land. Once the ground is frozen, producers will see fewer losses from trampling feed into the mud, and soil compaction remains a non-issue, as long as the herd is removed from the field before spring thaw.
For more information about choosing grazing corn hybrids, growers should talk to their local seed dealer.
Breeanna Kelln is an area agronomist with DuPont Pioneer.