Hay and forage utilization | TheFencePost.com

Hay and forage utilization

Daren Redfearn, Megan Taylor & Brad Schick
Nebraska Extension

Corn harvest is starting. That means corn residue will soon available for grazing. How should grazing be managed to get the most out of them?

When corn residue becomes available for grazing, several decisions need to be made. For starters, how soon should you move cows to graze the residue? Most years you probably should start grazing as soon as possible. The nutrient value of residue declines the longer it is exposed to weathering. Grazing residue right away will put more condition on cows and faster gains on stockers.

But be sure to check fields for excess grain before grazing. Fields with small ears or fields with wind damage may have more grain loss than usual. Too much corn can cause acidosis and founder. Adapt cattle to a higher grain ration before grazing if a problem is expected.

How to graze is another decision. Be careful, though, about forcing cows to eat the lower stalks. They won’t get much protein or energy from lower stalks and nitrate levels might be dangerously high. If heavy snow or mud occurs before you graze all areas, some good quality feed can be lost.

Whole-field grazing permits fast, early gains but more supplements are needed late in the season after all grain has disappeared. Strip grazing by giving animals only one or two weeks-worth of grazing at a time uses the residue more efficiently than leaving cattle in the same entire field for a couple months or longer. Strip grazing permits a higher stocking rate and provides a more uniform diet.

Whatever your grazing strategy, consider carefully what kind of nutrition animals are getting from the residue, so you neither underfeed nor overfeed expensive supplements.

Be sure to provide salt, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A free choice at all times. And once all the grain is gone, cows will need about half a pound per day of an all-natural protein to meet nutrient needs.

Corn residue grazing season is here. Make wise decisions to use it in best way possible.


Don’t let thistles haunt your pastures this fall! October and early November, is a key time to chemically control thistles in pastures. In Nebraska we have several biennial thistles, but mostly deal with musk, plumeless, Scotch, and bull thistles. Biennials require portions of two growing seasons to flower/reproduce. They develop from seed the first season into a flat rosette. When trying to control biennial thistles, destruction of rosettes prior to flowering (bolting) is an effective means of preventing seed formation and subsequent spread.

Another thistle to look out for is Canada thistle. Canada thistle is a creeping perennial that can be controlled with fall spraying, in conjunction with other management options in the spring. Previous research from Robert Wilson (UNL Emeritus Professor) indicated that control of Canada thistle went from 33%, when an herbicide was applied in the spring, to 90%, when fall applications were made.

While in the rosette stage thistles are more effectively controlled using herbicides. It is important to note that fall spraying of thistles is not a silver bullet and effective control often needs repeated applications. It will take several years of timely control before the soil seed bank is reduced. Choosing the right products for your program is another key step to controlling your thistles. There are many herbicides labeled for thistle control. Note that some products traditionally recommended for spraying thistles have recently changed product names. Take care when purchasing products and always read/follow label directions before use.

GrazonNext HL, Milestone, Chaparral, Graslan L, Stinger, Overdrive®, and Tordon 22K are all products that are labelled for use on biennial thistles as well as Canada thistle. 2,4-D mixed with dicamba is also an effective option, but should be sprayed when temperatures are warmer for the highest efficacy. When using Tordon 22K or Graslan L, both products are redistricted use and contain picloram. Use extreme caution around other vegetation, especially trees, as both products will kill woody plants. Most of the herbicides used for control of thistles also kill desirable forbs, so spot spraying individual plants or patches rather than broadcast spraying the entire pasture can spare valuable forbs.


There aren’t often many advantages to heavy grazing, particularly in years of drought, but on pastures such as bromegrass that need some help to increase animal performance, heavy fall grazing before interseeding legumes might be the first management step.

Cool-season pastures such as smooth bromegrass often lose yield due to becoming sod-bound. Interseeding legumes in the early spring or through winter frost seeding can help this and provide some additional benefits. Adding legumes into cool-season pastures or hay meadows can increase forage quality and animal performance. Nutrient cycling occurs faster on pastures with legume forage, with cow pies breaking down faster and nutrients are more available to pasture plants. The legumes have more protein, so animal digestion is faster and intake increased. Finally, legumes may decrease the need for supplemental nitrogen fertilizer.

Grazing heavy in the fall will slow growth next year, reducing competition for legume seedlings. As a bonus, this is a great way to get a little extra forage off during the fall. Some grazing in the spring after seeding, and prior to significant legume growth, can also be done to further reduce grass competition. Heavy grazing should be only a one-time practice in the fall before spring planting a legume. There is no advantage to grazing heavy every fall.

Legume interseeded pastures do take a little more management. Preserving legume stands can limit weed control options and make it a little harder to control if the other broadleaf weeds get out of hand.

To review: if spring interseeding legumes into cool-season grass, heavy fall grazing can reduce competition and allow spring-planted legumes a fighting chance. ❖