The Michigan Corn Stover Project – Part 3: Cattle feeding study

The effects of feeding corn stover to cattle if you’re considering harvesting stover.

Bales were processed by a bale buster and fed as a percentage in the total mixed ration.

Bales were processed by a bale buster and fed as a percentage in the total mixed ration.

As the season winds down, farmers have to decide whether or not to harvest their stover. To help assist farmers, the Michigan Corn Stover Project has developed three articles and a bulletin to inform their decision-making process. This article covers the effect of feeding corn stover to cattle.

Key findings

  • Finishing steers in a feedlot operation can be fed a ration with up to 20 percent corn stover on a dry matter basis without significantly effecting performance.
  • Ration balancing is critical when factoring stover into cattle diets. Farmers much ensure that proper energy, protein and minerals are provided to meet cattle nutrient requirements and performance goals.

Table 1. Total ration components (dry mater %).

 

Control

10 %

20 %

Corn stover

0

10

20

Dry rolled corn

26

26

25

High moisture corn

20

20

20

Corn silage

20

10

0

Dry distiller’s grains with solubles

30

30

31

Supplement1

4

4

4

1 Contained monensin (667 g/ton)

Table 2. Effects of dietary corn stover on cattle performance.

 

Control

10% stover

20% stover

Final weight, lbs

1530

1532

1507

Average daily gain, lbs

0-end

3.5

3.5

3.4

Dry matter intake, lb/d

0-end

28A

31 B

31 B

Corn intake

16 A

16 A

14 B

Gain/feed, lb gain/lb dry matter intake

0-end

0.12A

0.11B

0.11C

Ration NEm1 (Mcal/lb)

1.02A

0.94B

0.89C

Carcass characteristics

Hot carc. wt., lb

872

874

860

Ribeye area, in

13

13

13

Marbling2

616

602

586

Backfat, in

0.28

0.29

0.26

Kidney, pelvic and heart fat, %

3.75A

3.50A

2.00B

Quality grade3

20

20

19

Calc. yield grade

3.4

3.3

3.1

ABC Means in a row with unlike superscripts differ, α=0.05
1Net energy for maintenance (NEm)
2Marbling score: 600=modest; 700=moderate
3Quality grade: 19=Choice; 20=average Choice

The Michigan Corn Stover Project was a collaborative effort at Michigan State University Extension to investigate the uses of corn stover and potential impacts of harvest in Michigan. This effort was comprised of on-farm and small scale research conducted across Lower Michigan. It included a cattle feeding study, integrating a cover crop, bale storage study, harvest time evaluation and the impact of stover removal on yield of the subsequent crop. Funding for the multi-year project was obtained from the Michigan Corn Marketing Board and MSU’s Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs).

The objective of the cattle feeding study was to evaluate using stover as an alternative forage for cattle. The corn stover round bales were harvested at 45 percent for high moisture and 22 percent for low moisture and stored either covered or uncovered. The bales were processed by a bale buster and fed as a percentage in the total mixed ration (see picture). One hundred and forty-four Holstein yearling steers (eight head to a pen) averaging 952 pounds were fed 0, 10 or 20 percent stover on a dry matter basis. Nutrient composition and feedstuff composition of the rations are shown in Table 1.

Feeding corn stover increased dry matter intake, but average daily gain and carcass characteristics were similar among treatments. The calculated net energy for maintenance (NEm) value for corn stover, derived from the feeding trial, was 0.19 Mcal/lb. Cattle were able to compensate for a lower energy diet containing less corn by increased intake when fed a 20 percent corn stover diet. The quality of the carcass was similar amongst treatments as measured by ribeye area, marbling, backfat, USDA calculated yield grade and USDA quality grade. Average choice was the overall quality grade.

The results indicated feeding stover had a significant effect on dry matter intake, but the carcass characteristics and weight gain remained similar among treatments. Corn stover can be harvested and fed as a component of a total mixed ration or retained in the field and grazed. Corn stover is a viable alternative forage for livestock owners, making economic sense when the cost of hay or other forage surpasses the cost to harvest, store and feed corn stover.

For more information on corn stover, please visit our other articles and bulletin:

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