It's Not Just for Combining Any More

Experiences with a New Summer Annual: Grazing Maize

Victoria Mundy, Extension Educator

A bunch of cattle happily grazing healthy green corn is an unusual sight in northeast Nebraska, but if nine producers from Deweese to Obert have their way, we might get used to it. This spring, with the help of Terry Gompert of Knox County Extension, they obtained seed for Baldridge Grazing Maize, planted a couple of acres apiece, and now the cattle are out grazing.

Richard Baldridge of Cherry Fork, Ohio, developed Baldridge Temperate Grazing Maize. The maize is a hybrid of the same species as regular field corn (Zea mays L.), but the line was selected for good forage characteristics such as leafiness, high total digestible nutrient content, and high protein content (11 to 16%) in the vegetative plant parts.

The best thing about grazing is that the animals harvest their own feed, which saves you time, money, and fuel. Maize provides high-quality forage just when cool-season grasses decline in July, August, and early September. If you are short of grass in the warm months, summer annuals such as this maize can give your grazing season quite a boost.

The nine producers who tried Baldridge maize this year all made slightly different management decisions. Planting dates ranged from late April to early June, with populations ranging from 30,000 to 55,000 plants per acre (recommendation is 40,000, on 15" rows). Some people cultivated or sprayed for weeds, some did not. Some added nitrogen or manure, some did not. Tom Larson of St. Edward irrigated once in July. Animal types ranged from small calves to lactating dairy cows to...pheasants, believe it or not. Paul Phelps of Obert planted into CRP just to see what would happen. The important point is that every producer did what fit into his or her system.

Some producers put cattle out when the maize was five to six feet tall and tasseling had just begun. Marvin DeBlauw of Hartington and Don Peregrine of Fullerton waited until the grain was available, using the forage more for finishing stocker animals. All agree that animals should be given only one day's worth of forage at a time, to reduce trampling waste. Running a single electric line down a row did the trick, and it only took a day or two for the producers to learn how much "one day's worth" of maize was for their animals. Of course, when Lowell Schroeder's sows got out in Stanton, the wire didn't seem to matter much!

The results are in for a couple of trials. Nutrient analyses showed protein values to be 10.4% from September samples and 11.2% from August samples - both fields were planted in early June and had 2-leaf N-deficiency. Kenneth Kruse's 45 dairy cows grazed two acres of maize at Bow Valley for four days, and total milk production went up by 250 lbs/day over milk production from millet. Dean Lammers of Bow Valley was surprised when the four calves on cool-season pasture all this dry summer did better than the four which grazed maize, but he has some ideas about why that happened.

So some important questions remain. Does the maize really improve animal performance under Nebraska conditions? Does it pay to cultivate and fertilize? How does maize compare with other summer annuals, or even with corn from the bin? Is it better to graze early, while the vegetative material is high-quality, or to wait until the grain is available? What class of animals is most benefited? The producers who tried the forage are on their way to answering some of these questions. Meanwhile, Baldridge Grazing Maize is a new option for grazing systems.

For more information about the producers who tried this forage, contact the NSAS office or Terry Gompert at Knox County Extension.

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