Go Figure: Microsoft, Cattle And Corn Stalks.

NEBRASKA - A University of Nebraska-Lincoln spreadsheet allows farmers and ranchers to make better informed decisions about cattle grazing corn stalks.
calendar icon 22 November 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

The spreadsheet, designed by UNL agricultural economists Matt Stockton and Roger Wilson and animal nutritionist Aaron Stalker all at the West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte, not only estimates the number of animals that can be supported on a given field of corn stalks with a specified yield, but also has an economic evaluation including the cost to transport the livestock and check their care and conditions.

“With corn harvest nearing completion and weaning time for many producers happening this month, farmers and ranchers are likely to be negotiating the terms of agreements with landowners to graze their corn stalk residues,” Stockton said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s cattle inventory report counted more than 1.9 million beef cows that calved in Nebraska.

“With the USDA estimate of 9 million acres of corn harvest in Nebraska in 2007, the potential opportunity to graze cattle on corn stalk residue is huge,” Stockton said. “The unique thing about this tool is that it allows farmers and ranchers to analyze the cost to transport the livestock and check their care and condition, which may be more costly than the corn stalk rent.”

One application of this tool would be to determine if the corn stalk acres leased are adequate to support the number and size of cattle for the planned grazing season, Stockton said.

“If not, either the number of cattle or length of the grazing system would need to be altered,” he said. “These inputs can be varied quite easily until the acres required match the acres available.”

Another possible use is to help cattle owners evaluate the feasibility of grazing their cattle on corn stalks at various distances from their primary production center, Stockton said.

“While corn stalks may appear to be economical to lease, the transportation cost and the cost to supervise and care for them may need to be considered carefully since they may increase dramatically the cost of using the crop residue,” he said.

The two most common ways to price corn stalks used for grazing is on a per head per day and per acre basis.

Rates can vary based on variations in lease terms and forage potential. In some cases, fences are built and maintained by the landowner, while in other cases the cattle owner provides the fences. The same is true with watering equipment.

Other negotiable items can include who monitors the cattle, makes the minerals and supplements available and provides hay and feeds the cattle when winter conditions preclude grazing.

A calculation using the spreadsheet data found that 130 acres of corn stalks would support 70 animals weighing 1,000 pounds for 112 days if the corn yielded 200 bushels per acre.

If the grazing lease was $10 per acre, the cost for the stalks would be $1,300. If the cattle had to be hauled 75 miles at a cost of $5 per load per loaded mile, and there were 35 animals per load, the cost to haul the cattle to the corn stalks and back would be $1,500, $200 more than the grazing lease.

If the distance traveled to check the cattle was 60 miles one way, it would add an additional $420 to the total costs if the cattle were checked five times using 45 cents per mile vehicle costs and $30 per trip for labor. The cost to lease the corn stalks would be 17 cents per head per day, the total costs including the lease, cattle transportation and supervisory checks would be an additional 24 cents per head per day making the actual total cost of 41 cents per head per day.

In this instance, every 10 miles of decreased distances in cattle transport and checking resulted in a reduction of about 3 cents per head per day.

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