Three Tips for Winter Feeding Beef Cattle

Grazing longer, feeding hay and supplementing grain are all ways to keep cattle fed in winter. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

There are many different options to consider in a winter feeding program. Cost of purchased grains or hay, nutritional value of feedstuffs, the equipment needed to feed, stockpiled forages, the types of cattle being fed. All of these considerations will weigh on determining what direction to go with feeding cattle in the winter. Here are a few tips from Erika Lundy, Iowa State Extension beef specialist, to think of for winter feeding:

1. Grazing Corn Stalks or Cover Crops

An underutilized source of winter nutrition are corn stalks. States in the Corn Belt have lots of access to corn stalks, but a limiting factor for many producers is the lack of fencing surrounding fields and water. A hot wire fence is one simple solution if it is too late to build a barb wire fence. However, getting stock water to fields might be more difficult, so grazing crops fields might be contingent on water access.

“Usually with corn stalks, we start to see a decrease in value after about 60 days after that corn grain has been harvested,” Lundy says.

Grazing corn stalks in late fall can help take pressure off of traditional pasture allowing for stockpiling grass or another fallow grain field can be planted to a cover crop mix to graze in the winter.

“If we can extend our grazing season we are much better off on cost savings than harvesting and keeping stored winter feed,” Lundy says.

In the first year of grazing cover crops Lundy recommends using a single forage like wheat or rye to try out the program. Then a producer can start integrating cocktail mixes with brassicas and legumes once they’re more comfortable.

2. Feeding Hay

A concern Lundy is hearing from producers is the price of hay. With higher priced hay it is even more important that it is all utilized, so reducing waste should be a priority.

Lundy believes producers should evaluate their hay feeders to make sure stored forages are being utilized to help cost efficiency.

Feeding a total mixed ration with grain and ground up hay is another way to help control waste, too.

3. Feeding Grains

“Our grains, corn and beans, both are pretty cheap, relatively speaking right now,” Lundy says. This presents an opportunity to add additional grain sources such as corn, corn co-products and soybean hulls to diets that can help stretch forages while increasing nutrients like protein in diets.

However, she advises producers to seek guidance when looking at changing their rations.

“When we s tart talking about trying to change from what we typically do it’s a good idea to work with a local nutritionist or your local extension specialist to help you analyze some of those differences,” Lundy says.