LINCOLN, Neb. — As harvest progresses, crop residues are readily becoming available as a forage source. Producers looking to capitalize on these feeds often consider two options for use: grazing or baling. Which option is best for you?
Grazing corn residue allows animals to be selective about what they eat. Animals choose higher quality grain, leaf and husk first, grazing soiled or lower quality feed when it becomes the only choice available. With proper stocking, corn residues will meet nutrient requirements in dry cows. However, quality of residues will decrease with time as stalks are subjected to weathering.
Practices such as strip or rotational grazing can help extend the grazing period and balance quality. Initial investments in fence and water sources are drawbacks of grazing, but once the labor of putting fence in is completed, the cows do the work of harvesting.
Baling, on the other hand, requires labor and fuel to harvest and put-up residues. Because of the tough nature of corn residue, wear and tear on machinery is a consideration. How residues are harvested is also important and can greatly impact final quality. If the initial raking of residues is particularly aggressive, the dirt(ash) content of the final product will be high.
Because of the generally low quality and the risk of sorting, grinding cornstalk bales before feeding is beneficial. This does, however, add additional cost and equipment requirements for use.
Finally, baled residues are usually fed away from the field where they are harvested, resulting in nutrients losses where harvest occurred. The value of these losses depends on fertilizer price and how much residue is removed. Spreading manure from the feeding location back on the field can help mitigate some of this loss.
— Ben Beckman, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln