Recent rainfall, and even snow, may be good for wheat and next year’s crops, but it does have its drawbacks. One challenge is this moisture’s impact on corn stalk feed quality.
Rain in the fall usually is welcomed despite the delays it causes with crop harvest. Pastures and alfalfa benefit from extra growth and winterizing capabilities. Wheat and other small grains get well established, as do any new fields of alfalfa or pasture. And the reserve moisture stored in the soil will get good use during next year’s growing season.
But rain, as well as melting snow, also reduces the feed value of corn stalks in fields that were already combined, and even on standing stalks. Last week, many fields had some pretty heavy rain and snow on those stalks.
Moisture reduces corn stalk quality several ways. Most easily noticed is how fast stalks get soiled or trampled into the ground when fields are muddy.
Less noticeable are nutritional changes. Moisture soaks into dry corn stalk residue and leaches out some of the soluble nutrients. Most serious is the loss of sugars and other energy-dense nutrients, which lowers the TDN or energy value of the stalks. These same nutrients also disappear if stalks begin to mold or rot in the field, or especially in the bale. Then palatability and intake also decline.
There is little you can do to prevent these losses. What you can do, though, is begin to supplement a little earlier than usual. Since this weathering reduces TDN more than it reduces protein, consider the energy value of your supplements as well as its protein content.
Weathered corn stalks still are economical feeds. Just supplement them accordingly.
Bruce Anderson is a hay and forage professor at Nebraska Extension.