Heavy ice and snow can affect the quality of cornstalks, so cattle producers likely will have to alter their winter feeding strategy when an abundance of snow hits.

Daryl Strohbehn, a beef specialist with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension, cautions that even when warmer temps allow cornstalks to thaw some for grazing, producers need to be aware that their quality has been negatively affected. The damages caused by weather can be “fairly substantial,” Strohbehn says, causing the cornstalks’ nutrient level and palatability to decrease.

“…It’s like putting the cornstalks in a deep-freeze — that they don’t lose quality,” says Strohbehn, of the ice and snow. “But that’s not the way it really works. Certainly, as we cover those stalks up with ice and snow, that tends to preserve them. But when we go through the thaw process and get rid of that ice and snow, we have a leaching effect that takes place, and as that moisture goes away, it takes some of the nutrients in those cornstalks with it.”

Also, as cornstalks thaw, they tend to get pressed into the wet, muddy soil by the cattle, contaminating their taste. Therefore, the cattle won’t eat as much as they typically would.

As a result, Strohbehn says producers likely will have to double the amount of land they usually allow their cattle to graze on per day. Typically, producers can expect to utilize 1-2 acres of cornstalks per cow per month. But because of reduced quality and palatability, they probably need to double that to 2-4 acres of cornstalks per cow per month. The exception to this is producers who are strip grazing their cornstalks.

Also, for spring-calving cows in their last 60 days of gestation keep in mind this is a crucial time for meeting nutritional demands.

“Their energy demands are going up, as well as their protein demands, as part of that last gestational period,” Strohbehn says. “So producers need to understand that the nutrient demands are higher, and the cornstalk quality is lower, so they must make sure they are supplementing the cornstalks for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals according to the cow’s needs.”