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Minnesota dairyman finds success with crossbreds on grazed corn

Grazed corn and kura clover

If you are looking for higher yields, stockpiled feed for the summer slump as well as better soil, growing corn for your cows to graze instead of perennial grasses may be the answer.

Olaf Haugen manages his family’s dairy farm and is currently grazing 170 head. His parents, Bonnie and Vance Haugen, started grazing on their southeastern Minnesota farm in 1993. They started experimenting with grazing corn in 2002.

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“In 55 to 65 days, corn will produce as much tonnage as a season total for pasture,” he says, using an estimate of 4.5 tons of dry matter for corn and 4 tons for cool-season pasture.

Haugen believes with the high dry matter yields and high stocking rates, he is able to put more organic matter into the soil than with permanent pastures.

He also prefers corn because of yield distribution. Corn planted in June will be ready mid-August, when the warmer and dryer weather in the Upper Midwest drastically slows cool-season pastures. Their mostly Holstein-Jersey cross herd grazes half to three-quarters of an acre of corn versus 2 to 3 acres of permanent pasture.

Milk production holds steady, Haugen says, and sometimes increases on the grazing corn. Haugen says grazing corn is only second to an excellent stand of perennials in nutritional value.

Haugen plants 5 to 10 acres of corn for grazing each week or two from early May to August, as his schedule allows. After Aug. 1, they switch to planting oats and turnips – and later, winter rye.

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Haugen plants an inexpensive BMR corn seed and spends an estimated $25 to $30 per acre seeding. He says he once tried an actual variety intended for grazing, but he didn’t have as good of luck.

“Corn is a grass, and like all other grasses, the quality of the grass drops dramatically when the plant moves from a vegetative to reproductive state,” he says. The corn is grazed at the first sign of tassel; there are no kernels or even ears. It is grazed when it is 6 to 7 feet tall and grazed down to about 18 inches.

They graze their animals for 12 hours on corn during the day followed by nights on permanent pasture. He recommends using corn as part, but not all, of a ration.

Haugen advises that good fencing is needed to only allow cows to access what they will eat in 12 or 24 hours to minimize trampling. The cows will typically knock over a lot of corn, but if confined to a small area, they will eat the freshly tipped plants.

If there are issues or if the milk urea nitrogen ratings are high, Haugen consults their nutritionist. Otherwise, he monitors the bulk tank and lets the cows tell him if their nutritional needs are met. The grazing corn has moderate protein at 9 to 10 percent, good energy at 65 to 70 Mcal, high sugar and low lignin.

Haugen grazes cows April to November and supplements with corn silage, sweet corn, other vegetable waste from a local canning facility and grain throughout the year. The family feeds about 8 pounds of grain and 7 pounds of silage per cow per day. The balance of the ration is from pasture.

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Haugen suggested using a BMR corn with high population counts (80,000 to 100,000). The high populations make the stalks smaller and more palatable. When planting no-till, make sure to get it into the ground, he says. While uniform emergence is not as critical as for grain production, stand count is. Fewer plants mean less yield, and closer rows also mean better weed prevention.

Haugen’s weed control is a pre-emergence burndown with glyphosate. “The best weed suppression has been following the winter rye with the no-till system,” he says.

He recommends making sure adequate fertilizer is used. He applies phosphorus and potassium according to soil tests for 60 to 70 percent of corn for grain and 50 to 75 units of nitrogen depending on manure credits. Haugen advises producers to avoid using too much nitrogen, as nitrate poisoning is a possibility. On the Haugen farm, grazing corn is preferred over sorghum-sudan for the summer slump.

For early cool-season planting, corn generally does better, and corn generally has a greater yield of sorghum-sudan. There are no concerns about prussic acid poisoning, which can occur with sudan. Sorghum-sudan is generally more drought-tolerant, produces less waste and regrows after grazing.

The BMR varieties of sorghum-sudan grasses are considered superior to conventional varieties for digestibility.

Haugen is also a fan of kura clover in his pastures. “It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s a good legume,” he says. “It’s hard to kill once it’s established – usually three to four years. If it gets trampled in a wet spring, it will green back up.”

Haugen usually plants the kura with reed canarygrass using a rye or fescue with red clover as a “cover” for two or three years until it is established. “The reed-kura mix is extremely tough to kill once established, making for great spring sacrifice paddocks.”  end mark

PHOTO: Haugen uses a combination including grazed corn and kura clover to help beat summer slump and provide quality forage for his grazing herd. Photo by Kelli Boylen.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer based out of Waterville, Iowa

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