Farmers across Nebraska were dealt a bad hand from Mother Nature the last two weeks. High winds caused considerable damage to some cornfields by causing lodging of stalks and the loss of ears as they dropped on the ground. Damage is variable by field and hybrid, but losses of up to 40 to 50 bushels of corn on the ground have been reported.
Down corn can be challenging and frustrating to harvest, but still gives farmers a chance to harvest it by trying to get under the flattened corn. Ears dropped on the ground are even more frustrating as there is no practical way to harvest them, resulting in loss of revenue and making grazing stalk with cows more challenging.
When dealing with down corn, there are numerous things to try to improve the amount of corn gathered by the combine. Trying some of the following adjustments may help, such as changing the angle of the corn head flatter or steeper, synchronizing gathering chain speed, changing stripper plate settings, changing auger clearance, installing a corn reel, or installing new gathering chains to either increase aggressiveness or new options that capture shelled corn. Unfortunately, what works in one field on a certain day may not work on a different field or even a different day depending on the weather conditions. One option to try on the worst fields is to harvest in one direction only, which may pick up more corn but increases harvest time.
Once harvest is complete, if you are planning to graze cattle on stalks, be sure to scout fields and determine a rough idea of how much corn is left in the field. This can be done by counting the number of ears left in a certain row length or defined area, such as 1/100th of an acre, which would be 20 feet by 22 feet. Each ear on the ground within the 1/100th of an acre is going to equal three-fourths to one bushel depending on the size of the ear.
Any amount of corn greater than eight to 10 bushels on the ground will require some planned grazing to prevent problems such as acidosis, lameness or abortions. Consider the following strategies in these situations, limiting access to the field by cross fencing then moving fence each day so cattle only reach the amount of corn they should eat each day, put weaned calves or yearlings on the stalks as they don’t seek out corn as quickly as cows, over a seven- to 10-day period increase corn given to cows from 2-3 pounds to 10-12 pounds before putting them on stalks to reduce digestive upsets, turn cows out full and provide good-quality hay daily to limit corn intake, or use a Monensin supplement fed daily.