Gayle Smith
Gering, Neb.

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September 30, 2010
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Putting the finish on

As grass-fed beef becomes more popular in our country, more producers are looking for an economical way to put those final few pounds on to finish. According to Bob Scriven, a grazing consultant from Kearney, Neb., grazing standing corn can be a viable option for some producers.

"The interest in producing grass-finished beef, beef that never consumed grain or starchy feedstuffs, has continued the interest in the whole corn plant for a grazing medium," he said. "But, it has to provide a forage with no grain. This interest increases as we realize it is very difficult to produce reasonable gains (1.8 to 2.2 pounds) on finishing steers in the fall months when they are grazing quality, cool-season forages."

Scriven went on to explain high protein forages can provide good gains on stocker cattle, but not deposit the fat on a nearly finished steer that is needed to produce a tender and flavorful meat product. "The whole corn plant meets the energy requirements that are needed," he said.

During his presentation at the 10th Annual Nebraska Grazing Conference in Kearney, Scriven reminded producers that corn is a type of annual grass, and can be very economical to graze. "Grazing standing corn is simple, low-cost, and efficient," he said. "It is a summer annual forage that can be grazed or harvested."

In fact, several states have conducted studies to determine the feasibility of grazing standing corn, and all have shown positive results. In most all of the studies, grazing the standing corn out-performed harvesting it for grain. In fact, one study in Kentucky in 2002 showed a profit of $21 per head by grazing standing corn compared to a $10 per head loss by harvesting it for grain and utilizing it through the feedlot.

The key to grazing corn, Scriven continued, is looking at it as a grass, rather than a crop. "When you decide to grow corn for grazing, you need to take off your corn farmer hat, and put on your grazing hat," Scriven said. "You have to think about the corn in a different way. Think of the corn as a grass. Do not expect it to grow like your typical grain varieties, compare it to other summer annuals."

Scriven said corn can be grazed practically any time throughout the year, but producers should at least wait until the plant has reached the 8-10 leaf stage. "The more immature the plant is at grazing, the higher percentage of the entire plant will be consumed," Scriven said. Corn can be consumed by cattle before or after kernel development.

Producers should also consider the nitrates in standing corn used for grazing. "If you are fertilizing the corn, the problem could get worse," he explained. "The key is to not graze the corn too short. Most nitrates are concentrated in the bottom 18 inches of the stalk," he said.

Corn has 72 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN) in the "green" and at maturity, although the animal will consume more cob and ear as the corn matures. One bushel of corn can produce five to 10 pounds of beef.

Grass-fed producers who are interested in grazing corn, should graze the field before ear development, and stop at the blister stage or two to three weeks following the tassel stage.

If grass-fed producers intend to plant a field of corn for grazing, they should plant a tropical variety, a sterile variety, de-tassel the field, or consider stagger planting, Scriven continued, "Don't select a variety with thick stalks because it won't be as palatable. The key is to produce high tonnage in a short period of time with high sugar content and low lignin content."

Since the field will be used for grazing, Scriven also recommended planting an extremely high population of plants. "Don't restrict planting in 30-inch rows if you plan to graze early," he said. "Consider double planting by splitting the rows, if a 15-inch planter is not available. If you use a grain drill, be careful it doesn't crack the seeds and make sure to plant deep enough."

As grass-fed beef becomes more popular in our country, more producers are looking for an economical way to put those final few pounds on to finish. According to Bob Scriven, a grazing consultant from Kearney, Neb., grazing standing corn can be a viable option for some producers.

"The interest in producing grass-finished beef, beef that never consumed grain or starchy feedstuffs, has continued the interest in the whole corn plant for a grazing medium," he said. "But, it has to provide a forage with no grain. This interest increases as we realize it is very difficult to produce reasonable gains (1.8 to 2.2 pounds) on finishing steers in the fall months when they are grazing quality, cool-season forages."

Scriven went on to explain high protein forages can provide good gains on stocker cattle, but not deposit the fat on a nearly finished steer that is needed to produce a tender and flavorful meat product. "The whole corn plant meets the energy requirements that are needed," he said.

During his presentation at the 10th Annual Nebraska Grazing Conference in Kearney, Scriven reminded producers that corn is a type of annual grass, and can be very economical to graze. "Grazing standing corn is simple, low-cost, and efficient," he said. "It is a summer annual forage that can be grazed or harvested."

In fact, several states have conducted studies to determine the feasibility of grazing standing corn, and all have shown positive results. In most all of the studies, grazing the standing corn out-performed harvesting it for grain. In fact, one study in Kentucky in 2002 showed a profit of $21 per head by grazing standing corn compared to a $10 per head loss by harvesting it for grain and utilizing it through the feedlot.

The key to grazing corn, Scriven continued, is looking at it as a grass, rather than a crop. "When you decide to grow corn for grazing, you need to take off your corn farmer hat, and put on your grazing hat," Scriven said. "You have to think about the corn in a different way. Think of the corn as a grass. Do not expect it to grow like your typical grain varieties, compare it to other summer annuals."

Scriven said corn can be grazed practically any time throughout the year, but producers should at least wait until the plant has reached the 8-10 leaf stage. "The more immature the plant is at grazing, the higher percentage of the entire plant will be consumed," Scriven said. Corn can be consumed by cattle before or after kernel development.

Producers should also consider the nitrates in standing corn used for grazing. "If you are fertilizing the corn, the problem could get worse," he explained. "The key is to not graze the corn too short. Most nitrates are concentrated in the bottom 18 inches of the stalk," he said.

Corn has 72 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN) in the "green" and at maturity, although the animal will consume more cob and ear as the corn matures. One bushel of corn can produce five to 10 pounds of beef.

Grass-fed producers who are interested in grazing corn, should graze the field before ear development, and stop at the blister stage or two to three weeks following the tassel stage.

If grass-fed producers intend to plant a field of corn for grazing, they should plant a tropical variety, a sterile variety, de-tassel the field, or consider stagger planting, Scriven continued, "Don't select a variety with thick stalks because it won't be as palatable. The key is to produce high tonnage in a short period of time with high sugar content and low lignin content."

Since the field will be used for grazing, Scriven also recommended planting an extremely high population of plants. "Don't restrict planting in 30-inch rows if you plan to graze early," he said. "Consider double planting by splitting the rows, if a 15-inch planter is not available. If you use a grain drill, be careful it doesn't crack the seeds and make sure to plant deep enough."

As grass-fed beef becomes more popular in our country, more producers are looking for an economical way to put those final few pounds on to finish. According to Bob Scriven, a grazing consultant from Kearney, Neb., grazing standing corn can be a viable option for some producers.

"The interest in producing grass-finished beef, beef that never consumed grain or starchy feedstuffs, has continued the interest in the whole corn plant for a grazing medium," he said. "But, it has to provide a forage with no grain. This interest increases as we realize it is very difficult to produce reasonable gains (1.8 to 2.2 pounds) on finishing steers in the fall months when they are grazing quality, cool-season forages."

Scriven went on to explain high protein forages can provide good gains on stocker cattle, but not deposit the fat on a nearly finished steer that is needed to produce a tender and flavorful meat product. "The whole corn plant meets the energy requirements that are needed," he said.

During his presentation at the 10th Annual Nebraska Grazing Conference in Kearney, Scriven reminded producers that corn is a type of annual grass, and can be very economical to graze. "Grazing standing corn is simple, low-cost, and efficient," he said. "It is a summer annual forage that can be grazed or harvested."

In fact, several states have conducted studies to determine the feasibility of grazing standing corn, and all have shown positive results. In most all of the studies, grazing the standing corn out-performed harvesting it for grain. In fact, one study in Kentucky in 2002 showed a profit of $21 per head by grazing standing corn compared to a $10 per head loss by harvesting it for grain and utilizing it through the feedlot.

The key to grazing corn, Scriven continued, is looking at it as a grass, rather than a crop. "When you decide to grow corn for grazing, you need to take off your corn farmer hat, and put on your grazing hat," Scriven said. "You have to think about the corn in a different way. Think of the corn as a grass. Do not expect it to grow like your typical grain varieties, compare it to other summer annuals."

Scriven said corn can be grazed practically any time throughout the year, but producers should at least wait until the plant has reached the 8-10 leaf stage. "The more immature the plant is at grazing, the higher percentage of the entire plant will be consumed," Scriven said. Corn can be consumed by cattle before or after kernel development.

Producers should also consider the nitrates in standing corn used for grazing. "If you are fertilizing the corn, the problem could get worse," he explained. "The key is to not graze the corn too short. Most nitrates are concentrated in the bottom 18 inches of the stalk," he said.

Corn has 72 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN) in the "green" and at maturity, although the animal will consume more cob and ear as the corn matures. One bushel of corn can produce five to 10 pounds of beef.

Grass-fed producers who are interested in grazing corn, should graze the field before ear development, and stop at the blister stage or two to three weeks following the tassel stage.

If grass-fed producers intend to plant a field of corn for grazing, they should plant a tropical variety, a sterile variety, de-tassel the field, or consider stagger planting, Scriven continued, "Don't select a variety with thick stalks because it won't be as palatable. The key is to produce high tonnage in a short period of time with high sugar content and low lignin content."

Since the field will be used for grazing, Scriven also recommended planting an extremely high population of plants. "Don't restrict planting in 30-inch rows if you plan to graze early," he said. "Consider double planting by splitting the rows, if a 15-inch planter is not available. If you use a grain drill, be careful it doesn't crack the seeds and make sure to plant deep enough."


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The Fence Post Updated Aug 14, 2012 04:43PM Published Sep 30, 2010 09:11AM Copyright 2010 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.