Corn stalks are the main winter feed resource for many cattle producers.  Are they as good a resource as they were thirty years ago?

                My corn stalks don’t take care of my cows like they used to.  I hear this complaint often these days.  What is the basis for this claim?  Or is it just imaginary?

               I think two things might be happening here.  First, stalks indeed might be different.  And second, maybe cows themselves are different.

               Cows are larger today than thirty years ago.  Larger cows need more forage and usually greater supplementation than small cows.  So, a quarter section of stalks won’t carry as many cows as it once did.  And even when stocking adjustments are made, if supplements aren’t also adjusted accordingly, cow performance still might suffer.

               But it also is quite likely that stalk fields have changed.  In fact, they might have changed quite a bit.  For starters, modern combines collect grain much more effectively than before.  We used to estimate that four percent of the grain would be left in the field after combining.  Today the amount of grain left behind probably has been cut in half, maybe less.  Less grain means we need to supplement cows earlier than before.  Otherwise they may go out of condition as well as reduce the eventual production capacity of their calves.

               The stalks themselves also might be less nutritious.  Modern hybrids draw more nutrients out of the stalk and into the kernel.  And genetic modifications for insect resistance and less lodging produces stalks that break down or digest less rapidly, leaving behind stalks that may be less palatable and provide fewer digestible nutrients.

               So if you think stalks don’t care for your cows like they used to, you may be right.  But it’s up to you to adjust, rather than complain.

Source: Bruce Anderson, UNL Forage Specialist