The spring grass hay crop was extremely poor across many regions of the state. Beef cattle producers are turning to alternative feeds in order to find winter forage for their herds. Baled corn stalks are going to be one of the more available forage sources for many producers. A discussion of their quality and use is certainly appropriate.

Baled corn stalks are a completely different feedstuff than grazed corn stalks. Baled stalks do not offer the opportunity for cattle to glean grain from fields, and therefore a lot of the feed value of corn stalks are lost. They will be lower in quality and can potentially have a large amount of waste since the stalk is baled up along with the more nutritional leaves and husks.

During 2018, I received several forage test results for baled corn stalks. There was a wide range of nutritional value. Crude protein ranged from 2.6% to 6.0% and total digestible nutrients (TDN, an estimate of energy value) ranged from 31.6% to 45.0%. How will this quality of forage affect winter feeding programs for beef cows? First, realize intake of baled corn stalks will be low, with some estimates being 1.2% of body weight on a dry matter basis. Our expected intake of hay less than 52% TDN, is 1.8% of body weight. So right off the bat, we have an issue with total feed intake. 

Using an expected intake of 15 pounds of dry matter combined with average protein and energy values from the 2018 corn stalk bale results, a dry, second period cow would consume 72% of expected dry matter intake, receive 48% of her energy requirement and 33% of her protein requirement if only being fed corn stalk bales. Obviously additional energy and protein are needed for this animal, especially as she gets closer to calving time. For this second period cow, a supplement mix of 4.0 pounds of corn, 1.5 pounds of dry distiller’s grain, and 0.5 pounds of soybean meal, or an equivalent mix, is needed to meet energy and protein needs when fed at a rate of 6.0 pounds per head per day. Additional mineral supplementation is also needed to meet nutritional requirements for this animal.

Supplying only protein in the form of lick tubs, protein blocks, etc. will not provide enough energy to meet the nutritional needs of the animal and poor performance, including weight loss, can be expected from this scenario. Due to the variability in nutritional content and potential nitrate issues, it is strongly recommended producers submit forage samples for nutrient analysis. Forage analysis identifies the nutrients needing to be added to the diet which prevents feeding the wrong nutrients or the wrong amount of a particular nutrient. Nutritionally inappropriate diets will be very expensive this year due to the cost of various feedstuffs and the length of time conserved feeds will be fed.  

Baled corn stalks certainly have a place in winter feeding programs this year. However, they may be best considered as a way to stretch hay supplies rather than to be the hay supply. Be aware that a high level of waste will probably occur, and adjust feed amounts accordingly.  If you have questions or need assistance with collecting forage samples, interpreting forage sample results, or developing winter feeding programs contact your local MU Extension livestock specialist.