Stalker says a common misconception about cornstalk grazing is its effect on subsequent crop production. “For the majority of corn fields, there are no negatives to grazing. In fact, on high-yielding fields, removing a little of the residue actually increases subsequent yield," he says.

Dryland fields might be a different matter. If water is limiting, the residue cover can help prevent soil-moisture evaporation. It's also effective in minimizing water runoff and capturing snow, as well as minimizing erosion on highly erodible cropland.

Those caveats aside, Stalker says grazing corn stalks as a cattle feed is all positive. And, while some worry about compaction, research shows it's not a real concern. Plus, the manure deposited on the field in a grazing situation is a big attribute.

Jon Holzfaster, a farmer-feeder near Paxton, NE, attests to the benefits of grazing stalks. His family feeds out 1,000 to 1,500 head of cattle annually, relying significantly on ethanol byproducts available in the area. They also cash farm thousands of acres under center pivots, about 3,500 corn acres of which are grazed by area cow-calf producers on a contract basis once fall harvest is complete.

"For the last 15-18 years, we've brought in bred cows to utilize cornstalks as winter pasture. We use temporary electric fence and make sure they have water; the older cows really do well on stalks," he says.

"It’s a win-win; it allows us to reduce some of our residue so that our strip-tillage works better with the Roundup-ready varieties we plant. And the cattle do a great job of eliminating volunteer corn because they pick up those stray kernels. It’s become part of our normal operation."

Holzfaster's staff does the fencing, water and moving of the cattle, and put out salt and mineral provided by the rancher, but the workload differs by the contract. "We have different arrangements whereby the rancher might do a flat cash rent on the circle and do all the fencing, watering and management himself. Or anything in between, whatever the relationship is between us," he says.

The Holzfasters have developed long-term relationships with several ranchers, an arrangement that benefits both parties. "They're comfortable with what we do and how we do it," he says. He jokes that the only drawback is "not being able to put your feet up and drink a cup of coffee when the weather turns bad in the winter."

Cattle can go on residue anytime after harvest, but Holzfaster generally waits until the neighborhood harvest is completed. "Temporary electric fence can fail and we sure don’t want to get cows wandering into neighbor’s standing crop," he explains.

He says they've begun grazing as late as January, but with this year's early harvest, he anticipates an early- to mid-November start. The cattle generally are off the field by mid March, in time for fieldwork to begin.