Crop residues like cornstalks provide good winter feed, but adding turnips or cereal rye to them can sometimes make them even better, ,according to Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln forage specialist. There can be risks, however, he adds.
"Cornstalks are one of the better and least expensive winter feeds we have," Anderson says. "But once cattle finish eating the grain and husks, what remains isn't all that good."
Some growers have improved both the amount and quality of cornstalk grazing by flying turnip or rye seed onto standing corn in early August. When successful, turnip or rye plants provide more grazing days and extra protein when cornstalks become poor quality.
"Let me emphasize the words 'when successful.' It's not all that easy to get a good stand of either turnips or rye to become productive in a growing corn field," he says.
Several factors limit success rates. Moisture easily can be limiting in dryland corn, but also can be difficult to manage in surface irrigated fields. Even under pivots, providing water for rye or turnips without slowing corn harvest takes planning.
Another problem is the density of the corn canopy. Irrigated fields can be especially thick, acting like weeds to prevent adequate light from reaching new seedlings. Chopping corn for silage or combining high moisture grain early helps.
Herbicide carryover also causes problems. Turnips are very sensitive, but rye also is affected, Anderson says.
Another factor is wheel traffic at harvest. Turnips are damaged more than rye, but both lose stand if fields get muddy.
"I do like improving cornstalks with rye or turnips, but be aware that there are challenges," Anderson explains.