Grazing stalks can also have benefits for subsequent crops. Cows grazing corn stalks for 60 days will remove approximately 30 to 40 percent of the residue. Residue buildup has been a well-documented problem in many corn-on-corn fields with new hybrids.

Cows deposit nutrients in the form of manure back on the field. As they graze, they reduce volunteer corn, considered a weed and a yield-robber in soybean fields.

“With crops coming out early this year, let cows graze corn stalks for 30 to 60 days,” said Meteer. “You will still have plenty of time for fall tillage.”

Meteer noted that, due to lower grain yields, there will be less available feed in the form of corn stalks.

“If you are accustomed to producing 200 bushels per acre of corn and this year your fields produced 100 bushels an acre, you can expect the amount of available dry matter (DM) in the form of corn stalks also to be reduced by half,” he said. This means fewer bales per acre, or fewer grazing days.

Using an equation developed at the University of Nebraska, a field that averages 100 bushels per acre yields 1,657 pounds of leaf and husk. Only 50 percent of the 1,657 pounds is available for the animal; the rest is trampled or lost in weathering. Thus, 828 pounds of DM husk and leaf per acre are available as feed.

A 1,300-pound cow consumes 884 pounds of DM per month. At 100 bushels an acre, approximately 1 to 1.5 acres of corn stalks are needed to feed the cow for 30 days.

To feed the same cow on corn stalks for 60 days, 2 to 3 acres would be needed. If the field had elevated nitrate levels, it would be wise to allow more acreage per cow or to reduce the grazing period to ensure cattle are not forced to eat the stalk.

“If you do not have the capability to graze corn stalks, they can be baled,” Meteer noted.

“Baling corn stalks will add costs to the feed in the form of fuel, labor, equipment costs, and fertilizer replacement costs. Even with these costs, it can still be an economical feed.” Hauling manure back to the harvested fields will displace some fertilizer costs associated with corn stalk removal.

Fertilizer value is hard to determine this year due to the drought and drought-stressed corn crops.

Normally, fertilizer value of a 1,200-pound bale of corn stalks is close to $15. “I think it will be very close to that this year despite the drought conditions,” Meteer said.

“Harvesting costs must be added to that, but corn stalks still remain an economical forage for cattlemen.”

Saving stored feedstuffs and hay for winter feed is important to making it through a drought. Corn stalks can give cattlemen some needed fall grazing or supplemental baled forage to stretch small hay supplies.

“Good times in the cow business are expected in 2013, but producers have to manage to be there when they arrive,” Meteer concluded.