Mary Drewnoski, a beef specialist with the UNL Animal Science Department, says it’s possible for cattle to have too much of a good thing.
“Those cows can kill themselves by overeating,” Drewnoski says. She says producers need to be very cautious when letting their cattle graze.
“Think about having 10 bushels per acre of downed corn. That’s 560 pounds of corn per acre,” Drewnoski says. “If you turn 100 cows out into a field, let’s say an 80-acre field, they can essentially for a week go through and eat 20 to 30 pounds of just corn grain.”
Several reports have come in this fall from various areas of Nebraska of cattle dying in the fields from overeating.
“One instance, he filled them up with hay and turned them out and a few days later, he had three dead cows,” Drewnoski says. “That was in the southern part of the state. In the northeast, we had another instance where cows got into a field that had a bunch of downed corn. They had fenced them out of that field but they happened to get over into it.”
The downed corn doesn’t need to go to waste, she says, if producers consider different management practices.
“They should be thinking about using calves to go through and glean most of that corn before you turn cows out,” she says. “Think of a leader-follower system. We could have calves, maybe replacement heifers or steer calves you want to put a little extra weight on.”
As the corn harvest wraps up across Nebraska, Drewnoski says she’s concerned about producers turning cows out into the fields and facing a serious situation.
“Given the reports of the amount of downed corn, I am very, very nervous about this situation,” she says. “It seems to be statewide. A lot of fields have ten-plus bushels per acre and if cattle producers do not get those cattle adapted, they’re going to have train wrecks.”
She encourages cattle producers to talk with their local extension educators about the risks involved with downed corn and suggests putting together a proper management plan for the fall.
By Dave Niedfeldt, KWBE, Beatrice