Grazing crop residues

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It is no secret that feed costs are the number one expense in the cow-calf beef operation. Knowing your costs and finding ways to lower them can provide a great opportunity to increase profits. If producers want to have more money left over at the end of the year and feed costs are consuming the biggest portion of the budget, then lowering feed costs will help generate higher profits.

Grazing is cheaper than feeding stored or mechanically harvested feeds, thus extending the grazing season is a great way to reduce feed costs. In the Midwest, there are a significant amount of row crop acres that leave behind a residue that can be utilized as livestock feed once the perennial forage grazing season has come to a halt.

Common reasons that corn stalk or crop residue grazing does not occur:

  • No fence
  • No water source
  • Worried about soil compaction
  • Snow and ice may cover the field 

If a producer can overcome the issues of fence and water, corn stalks offer a great opportunity for grazing season extension. The University of Nebraska has a decision tool that can help producers determine the optimum stocking rate when making a decision on whether to graze corn stalks.

Cover crops also offer a great opportunity for both livestock and crop farmers by providing grazing, and helping to increase soil fertility through added manure by the grazing livestock. The livestock also help break down crop residues, which can make for easier planting next season. Some crop farmers are concerned that grazing livestock can create compaction issues, however studies have shown that there is very little yield differences in grazed versus non-grazed fields when proper management is followed.

For more information on grazing season extension, or crop residue grazing, contact Michigan State University Extension educators Kable Thurlow, Gerald Lindquist, or Frank Wardynski.

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