Will this year’s cover crops be utilized by beef cattle?

Posted: September 18, 2019

Answer: Cover crops can be harvested for livestock feed. On our prevent plant acres we grew sorghum-sudan grass (instead of field corn) and will be chopping it and feeding
it to our cattle.

Many acres in DeKalb County and surrounding counties were not planted to the usual field corn or soybean crops due to the severe wet weather delaying planting in the months of June and July.

Some farmers with crop insurance coverage chose to not plant the traditional crops and risk the late maturity and further growing season unknowns. These unplanted corn/soybean acres are called prevent plant acres.

With prevent plant, the cover crop provision allowed for certain crops to be planted on these acres, with the restriction that they be harvested or grazed as forage only for livestock, not seed, after Sept 1.

Some of the most common examples of cover crops planted locally are oats, wheat, rye, triticale, legumes, radishes, sorghum, grasses, and even corn.

Driving around the county you don’t see livestock grazing in a field of cover crops. Many of the cattle are fed in buildings or feedlot systems for efficiency. Therefore, if cover crops are to be harvested they will likely be cut, allowed to dry and baled, or chopped and ensiled in a silo, bag, or bunker.

Although the sorghum-sudan grass will make potentially good roughage, it will not be cheap or easy to handle. Drying or wilting the crops in September can be a challenge. Cold, cloudy, dewy, or rainy conditions do not allow for easy harvest or storability.

Our cattle our normally fed corn silage harvested around Sandwich Fair time at 50-60% moisture. This year, our June planted corn will not reach that moisture until the end of September at the earliest. Thus, the sorghum-sudan grass we planted on some of our prevent plant acres will be chopped instead of corn.

The quality of the grass feed will not be equal to the quality of corn silage. We will need to feed more corn in the ration to equal the energy value difference. There is also more undigestible fiber in sorghum compared to corn.

Establishing the cover crops this year was also a challenge. As the crops were planted in generally some of the best field conditions of the season, the rains shut off for a couple weeks causing uneven emergence and weed problems. Many of the cover crops have a limited list of approved weed herbicides. The list is shortened further by the time of rotation to the next crop and contingent on planting a mix of grass and legumes.

Bottom line, some cover crop fields have weeds present that can cause cattle to reject the feed or even become ill. Ensiling can help lower the likelihood of a problem, but if baled, smaller animals could have more serious effects. Weeds can also hinder the speed of drying of the crop to be baled and then lead to bales that heat up and could become a fire hazard.



Got a question for a farmer?
Submit your farm and food questions to connections@dekalbfarmbureau.org. We will share questions with our local farmers and publish their answers as space allows in upcoming issues of CONNECTIONS.