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In many western cattle operations, harvested forages have traditionally been considered the most economical feedstuffs for wintering beef cows. However, in certain situations, the nutrient content of standing or harvested forages may be inadequate to meet the nutritional requirements of the beef cow for maintenance, gestation, or lactation. Furthermore, the availability of standing or harvested forages may be limited, especially during drought years and(or) severe winters when the cost of medium- to low-quality forages may reach $80-100 per ton. Feeding corn grain may represent an economically viable alternative in each of these scenarios.
Producers commonly ask “how much corn can I feed to my cows?” The answer is quite simple...as much as you like. However, the more difficult question is “how much corn should I feed to my cows?” The appropriate answer to this question is entirely dependent on the producer’s objectives, the quantity and quality of the available forage, the nutritional status of the cows, and their stage of production. Addition of corn to beef cow diets can be broken down into three systems, supplementation, substitution, and limit feeding. Each system has very different objectives and situations to which they should be applied. Interactions of corn with the intake and utilization of the forage base are predominantly responsible for these differences.