It is no secret to most cattlemen that when costs increase, management becomes key. And this became even more evident this year as the drought caused many producers to look for ways to feed their animals.

A lot of forage in Illinois is underutilized, said Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension beef specialist during a cow-calf meeting. And the No. 1 forage that is underutilized is cornstalks, he added, because many acres of those cornstalks which have a lot of value to cattlemen get tilled under.

“You can manage cornstalks for cows to gain weight, and if you have big cows, you can supplement them a little bit,” Travis explained. “I’m a huge advocate of grazing cornstalks.”

Grazing cornstalks is one way to extend the grazing season. And even though Illinois is a row-crop state, farmers who also raise cattle have a synergy and grazing cornstalks makes it work.

Cows can be fed for under $1 per day by strip grazing cornstalks, Travis explained. In a research project, all the cows were fed 4 pounds of distillers grains along with grazing cornstalks at either one cow per acre, 1.5 cows per acre with the fence moved every two weeks or 1.5 cows per acre with the fence moved every week.

“These cows gained weight and had an increase in body condition score,” Travis said. “However, you have to test your feeds because we’ve had gluten test from 18 to 22 percent protein and distillers grains from 22 to 28 percent protein.”

For cattlemen who don’t have the opportunity to graze cornstalks, another option is the harvest and bale them. In a research trial, 164 lactating Angus and Simmental cows were divided into four groups.

The control diet was ad lib access to mixed alfalfa hay, and three other groups were fed distillers grains together with ad lib access to cornstalk residue bales, a high level of ground cornstalk residue or a low level of ground cornstalk residue.

There was no statistical difference between the diets in milk production, calf average daily gain or first AI conception rate, Travis said. However, the cows on the hay diet lost the most weight and had the poorest reproduction rate, and the diet cost the most at $3.25 per head per day.

One of the biggest costs of hay production, Travis stressed, is waste. If 6 inches of a round hay bale that is stored outside is spoiled, he said, that’s one-third of the bale on the outer 6 inches.

In addition, Travis noted, not all hay feeders were created equal when it comes to how much hay they waste.

“Those trailer feeders aren’t cheap, and they waste a lot of hay,” he said.

And a research project at Oklahoma State University showed a 5 percent waste with a cone feeder compared to 13 percent waste with a regular ring feeder.

“It’s not hard to figure out you can invest a little bit and buy the right kind of hay feeder,” Travis stressed. “Put something around the bale. You will waste 40 to 50 percent of a bale in a field without a feeder.”

Considering all this information, if I was a cattleman and there was an opportunity for my cows to graze cornstalks, that’s just what I would do.