It's been one of the worst droughts in decades, with low harvests and high feed costs. And as the hard times continue, both farmers and ranchers are feeling the tug of tight resources. Experts are advising ranchers to have their cattle graze on cornstalks this autumn.
"Cattlemen have always seen the value in grazing the corn stalks, but it's really ramped up this year with the drought being so widespread and the cost of feed and all grains and roughages has gotten so high that we really can capitalize on using the roughages that we have available to us," says Ken Real, a fifth generation rancher.
Real has also leased his post-harvest lands to other ranchers for cornstalk grazing for the past 20 years. The set-up helps ranchers save money on feed and allows farmers to earn some additional income. Real says there are other benefits of having cattle graze in cornfields as well.
"Most corn producers would agree that there's advantages in trash residue management. That's one of the major issues they mechanically have to, especially on continuous corn after corn, to get rid off, and these cattle definitely help them get their next year's farming operation go a little smoother," Real adds.
It's all in an effort to conserve pricey hay for the winter and to help both Nebraskan farmers and ranchers.
"I just think we're pretty fortunate in this part of the country to have irrigation and the ethanol by-product along with these roughages right now to get these ranchers and farmers through these drought conditions. We'll have access to enough winter feed to get us through to next spring and hopefully it'll start raining again," Real says.
Experts are cautioning ranchers to make sure their cattle do not graze the stalks too low to the ground, as high levels of nitrates may be present.