Corn or Hay in the Winter?
Ironically, corn grain is the least expensive feed per unit of energy to feed your
cattle, but, when winter rolls around, most ranchers turn to hay (the most expensive) to feed their herd.
There is a growing trend to use corn in the winter months, and several operations large and small have begun
combination programs to reduce winter costs.
Hay can cost roughly 50 to 100 percent more than corn grain per unit of
energy its produces in the cattle. Given this, it would seem obvious that anyone in the beef industry, where energy
is crucial to good products, would turn to corn as a means to winter feed their cattle.
It is possible to program intake of corn-based diets to meet
requirements for gestation, lactation, or a level of growth desired for replacement heifers. The intake of these
animals would need to be restricted to prevent consumption of excess energy which would cause fattening, an
unwanted characteristic in a heifer.
What do the Experts Say?
Recent research conducted by Ohio State
University has led to development of the following procedures for spring calving cows:
In November and December, feed 2-3 pounds of first cutting hay, 2 pounds supplement and
12 pounds of whole shelled corn (per cow basis). Feed once a day.
From January through April (until spring pasture is ready), feed 2-3 pounds of hay, 2
pounds of supplement and approximately 14 pounds of corn. Adjust corn intake to achieve desired weight and/or body
condition score. These procedures were developed for 1,300 pound cows. Larger cows would require more corn and
smaller cows would require less corn.
When starting the program, take 3-4 days adjusting up the corn and decreasing hay to
2-3 pound level. Make sure bunk space is adequate so all cows can get their share of feed. Cows will finish their
feed in about 30 minutes, so a securely fenced area is required.
The supplement used contained 36 percent protein, 3.75 percent calcium and 1.0 percent
phosphorus and had the following composition (supplement was pelleted): Ground
Corn 31.95%, Soybean 45.6%, Urea 4.1%, Limestone 7.8%, Dicalciurn
Phosphate 4.3%, Trace Mineral Salt 3.2%, Dyna 2.3%, Selenium Premix (220
ppm) 0.4%, Vitamin Premix 0.2%, Rumensin 60 (60g rumensin/lb) 0.15%, Vitamin A,
15,000 IU/gram and Vitamin D 1,500 lU/gram
Provides 180 mg rumensinlhdld
RumensinTM is a feed additive often used for feedlot cattle to improve feed efficiency and
reduce acidosis (off feed) and bloat problems.
The study also found that cows given corn in
the winter had as good or better conception rates and calf weaning weights as cows wintered on hay. During the past
four years, the average feed cost per cow was $.82/day for the corn fed cows and $1.38/day for the hay fed cows.
For a 150 day winter feeding period, this would be a savings of $84 per cow. These feed costs were calculated with
corn at $2.20/bushel, supplement at $172 /ton and hay at $80/ton.
Do the Math
In the end, it is possible to meet the cows' energy
requirements by developing a combination of hay and corn diet that meets the individual needs of your cattle. Corn
can stretch hay supplies. but if that’s your goal, better to feed a corn based diet and switch to hay, rather than
feeding a mix. A supplement similar to the one described above should always be fed if most of the cow's calories
are coming from corn.
Ultimately, it is up to the rancher to determine whether or not a combination corn-hay
diet will satisfy the cow’s nutritional and energy requirements in the winter. Like any decision involving your
operations, it should always be made and explored keeping in mind the specific of your cattle. Because feed costs
represent roughly 65 percent total beef production costs, this is an area in the budget that should always receive
scrutiny each year, at least. An in-depth and concerted cost-benefit analysis of a corn-based or corn-hay
combination diet will at least ensure your cattle are getting the best feed they need and you are allocating
feeding dollars to the right type of feed based on your individual needs.
Good Nutrition Crucial For Success