Dealing with Drought and Potential Cattle Feed

ORANGE CITY, Iowa – More than half of the counties in Iowa have now been approved for emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, which is welcomed news for drought-affected beef producers.

To hay or graze CRP acres, producers must apply to their local Farm Service Agency and adhere to specific rules. Once approved, haying and grazing may be immediately started; but, the period for haying expires August 31, and grazing must be terminated by September 30.

“Northwest Iowa may not have as many CRP acres as other parts of the state, but every little bit helps,” said Beth Doran, beef program specialist with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach. “However, we grow a lot of corn – which offers producers the opportunity to harvest green-chopped corn as forage or to put it up as silage.”

Doran cautions producers who plan to green-chop or make silage to check with both their Farm Service Agency and crop insurance agency before chopping. If drought-stressed corn is green-chopped, producers should be aware of the potential for nitrate toxicity.

“There is a quick test that can be used to test for the presence of nitrates, but a sample of the green-chopped feed should be sent to a commercial testing laboratory to determine the amount of nitrate,” Doran said. “Do this before feeding!”

Ensiling of drought-stressed corn will reduce the nitrate concentration by about 40 to 60 percent. Still, producers need to have it tested after ensiling and before feeding to determine the actual level of nitrate. If the nitrate level is high, the silage may be diluted with low-nitrate feedstuffs.

Doran reminds producers that tolerance to nitrate ranges with the type of beef animal. Feedlot cattle over 700 pounds tend to be more tolerant; whereas, lighter feedlot animals or pregnant cows and heifers are least tolerant. It is advisable to feed it to the most tolerant animals.

Other best management practices include harvesting at the proper dry matter, allowing four to five weeks for fermentation, slowly adapting the animal to the silage and providing a balanced diet.

More information on drought and beef cattle may be accessed from or contact Beth Doran at 712-737-4230 or

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