Feed value of cornstalk bales

Producer Question from 2012

Q.  What is the feed value of cornstalk bales? (Nov 13, 2012)

A.  Corn stalk bales are everywhere this year and can provide much needed winter feed. But before you feed those bales, first find out what they have to offer nutritionally. Sample and test your bales as soon as possible so when snow gets deep or other feeds run out you will already know how to best feed your corn stalk bales.

Test those corn stalk bales for nitrates, of course, to make sure to feed them safely. And while you're at it, also test them for protein and energy. I've seen test results from a number of corn stalk bales. You may be surprised at how variable the protein and energy content were in these bales. I've seen protein as low as 3 percent and as high as 6 percent. Since dry pregnant cows need 7 to 8 percent protein in their diet, those high protein bales will need only a little protein to adequately care for the cows. But those 3 percent bales will need quite a bit of supplement to keep cows in good condition.

Use a protein supplement that is nearly all natural and is mostly rumen degradable. Maintenance-level forage diets need degradable protein for the rumen microbes, but remember that urea and other non-protein nitrogen sources aren't used as well.

Most bales had pretty good TDN levels, often close to 55 percent. Cows fed these bales should do very well up until calving with just corn stalk bales and adequate protein supplement. However, some stalks were rained on before baling and were below 50 percent TDN. Cows fed these lower quality bales will need some extra energy, too. Drought stressed corn that was put up as hay may have higher energy and protein values depending upon the stage of maturity of the plant.

In the video below Rick Rasby explains how to test cornstalk bales.

This video is part of the NUBeef YouTube channel.

Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist
Agronomy Department
University of Nebraska–Lincoln