Forage minute

Nebraska Extension


Fall rain and snow are good for wheat and next year’s crops, but it does have its drawbacks. One challenge is its impact on corn stalk feed quality.

While this fall has been relatively dry, there has and will continue to be areas that receive some rain or snow events. Rain reduces corn stalk quality several ways. Most easily noticed is how fast stalks can get soiled or trampled into the ground if the fields become muddy.

Less noticeable are nutritional changes. Rain or melting snow soaks into dry corn stalk residue and leaches out some of the soluble nutrients. Most serious is the loss of sugars and other energy-dense nutrients, which lowers the TDN or energy value of the stalks. These same nutrients also disappear if stalks begin to mold or rot in the field or especially in the bale. Then palatability and intake also decline.

Another factor that affects cornstalk grazing is wind. Throughout the fall, there always seems to be those days where excessively high winds will easily blow corn leaves and husks off the field. This of course, can impact the amount of feed, and after grain, those leaves and husks contain the highest nutritional quality.

There is little you can do to prevent these losses. What you can do, though, is to closely monitor cow and field conditions while adjusting your supplementation program accordingly. Since weathering by rain reduces TDN more than it reduces protein, consider the energy value of your supplements as well as its protein content.

Weathered corn stalks still are economical feeds. Just supplement them accordingly.


Choosing the right protein may help bring the cost of feed down and more accurately meet the needs of our cattle. In some rations, alfalfa might be that choice.

Whether cattle are on winter range, corn stalks, or being fed prairie/grass hay, they often will need extra protein in their diet. Protein sources vary in cost and effectiveness. Protein is important because it is used by the rumen microbes to help break down low quality forage and then used by animal itself as microbial protein as they pass through the digestive tract. It’s essentially used twice.

Many times alfalfa is one of the cheapest natural source of protein, easy to use, and doesn’t require additional equipment. Non-protein sources of nitrogen such as urea may be cheap but won’t be as effective with low quality forage. The first steps to finding out how much extra protein your cattle need include testing your feeds and forages for protein and estimating consumption rate. Then determine the amount of supplementation needed which will depend if you are dealing with weaned growing calves, dry pregnant cows, or lactating cows and nursing calves.

Some winter diets such as winter range, corn stalks, or grass hay may require approximately one pound of extra protein per day. This can be supplemented every day or every other day and still keep cows productive, healthy, and meet requirements.

Feeding the right amount and choosing the right protein you need can save money. Alfalfa might just be the golden ticket.

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