This year the drought has put a lot of stress on cattle feeders.

Because of low yields, many corn fields were harvested as silage for cattle feed. The current question is, how can silage be used best to keep costs down?

“First and foremost, drought-stressed corn silage can be notorious for high nitrate concentrations and over-feeding nitrates can cause nitrate poisoning, or brown-blood disease, in cattle,” said University of Illinois feedlot nutritionist Tara Felix.

 “Cattle essentially suffocate because there is not enough oxygen being carried in the blood. Therefore, before feeding silages put up during a drought, always get a nitrate test.”

There are several testing centers where samples can be sent. For a list, visit

After testing safe for nitrates, silage can be an excellent source of energy for cattle.

“Cattle can be fed by giving them free access to silage with supplemental protein and minerals,” Felix said.

Her recommendations are that calves that are 600 to 700 pounds should eat enough silage to gain about 3 pounds per day if they are fed by given free access. When cattle reach 800 pounds more of the energy in silage will be used for their increased maintenance needs so gains will likely drop to 2 or 2.5 pounds when fed by free choice.