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Feeding drought-stressed corn to cattle

Healthier-looking corn a fooler; nitrates higher  Send a link to a friend

[AUG. 5, 2005]  URBANA -- A recent evaluation of drought-stressed corn at Congerville, combined with similar evaluations, has led a University of Illinois Extension animal systems educator to make a series of recommendations for producers considering feeding such corn to cattle.

"As a result of the prolonged summer drought, many producers are out of pasture and have a short supply of hay," said Dave Seibert, who is based in East Peoria. "Cattle producers are evaluating the option of grazing, green chopping or ensiling corn for feed for the remainder of the summer and into fall and winter.

"However, producers must be extremely cautious with these options."

That need was clearly demonstrated, he said, by the Congerville evaluation.

Twenty-seven cattle producers from 12 central Illinois counties brought their drought-stressed corn to be checked for nitrate level.

"Many producers came to the evaluation with the opinion that their taller, greener leaf corn with larger ears would not have the same level of nitrate as the shorter, stunted, firing and earless corn," he said. "This proved to be a false assumption. To everyone's surprise, the taller, greener leaf stalks were among the highest in nitrate levels."

The tallest stalks, at 88.2 inches, had "very high" nitrate levels, and "high" levels were found in stalks 78.6 inches.

"Do not let height influence your expectation on nitrate level," Seibert said.

As a result of this and other evaluations, Seibert recommends that producers follow a number of guidelines before feeding drought-stressed corn to cattle.

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"First, conduct a field screening test and/or a forage laboratory analysis to determine the level of nitrate," he said. "Second, obtain the whole plant moisture level prior to harvesting to make sure the plants have good fermentation during ensiling and not lost nutrients through excess silage leaching.

"Third, after three to four weeks of ensiling, send another sample to a forage laboratory to obtain not only nitrate level but a complete nutrient analysis -- NIR test. Fourth, balance a ration using your local feed consultant or one of the computer ration balancing programs. Finally, plan to base your winter feeding program on blending other feedstuffs like hay, feed grains, alcohol or distillers' byproducts, etc., with your drought-stressed corn silage."

Seibert said that since there will be a number of fields that will be harvested as grain production, producers might consider the often-forgotten practice -- and one of the cheapest per day -- of grazing corn stalks for fall and early winter feed supply.

Producers interested in receiving a packet of fact sheets on the harvesting, feeding and laboratory analysis of drought-stressed corn can contact Seibert at (309) 694-7501, ext. 224, or by e-mail to

[University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences news release]

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