Persistent drought conditions have rendered pastures lifeless, sent hay costs soaring upward, and jumped corn prices to the eight dollar mark, leaving cattlemen coping with record-high feed costs.

Extension educator Travis Meteer said that looking to nearby cornfields for feed may be the most economical solution.

“The best way to use a harvested corn field is to allow cattle to graze it,” Meteer said.

“Cattle graze selectively, looking for the more palatable feedstuffs. For corn stalks, the more palatable parts of the plant are also more nutritious. Cattle first eat the remaining corn grain, then husks, then leaves, and finally the stalk.”

The cost of grazing corn stalks is low, first because the cows graze and harvest their own feed and second, because all costs to produce the plant for grain production are attributed to the row-crop operation.

Even with the cost of a temporary fence (which many farmers already have) and water, grazing corn stalks is more economical than feeding high-priced hay.

“Cattle will eat the more digestible and higher protein portions first. Therefore, a good mineral is probably the only supplementation needed for the first month unless the herd includes fall-calving cows or stocker calves,” Meeter advised. “For them, a supplement will be necessary to meet the nutrient demands of lactation and growth, respectively.”

Cattle will not eat the stalk unless nothing else is left, so nitrate poisoning is not a serious concern. If the corn was drought-stressed and had elevated nitrate levels, a lower stocking rate should be used to ensure that the cows do not eat the stalks, in which nitrate levels could still be high.