Ever since his days in 4-H and FFA at North Callaway High School, Luke Linnenbringer has been raising feeder cattle. After graduating from University of Missouri-Columbia in 2001, he came back to the family farm in Callaway County and continued raising cattle, corn and wheat.
In 2011, he decided to try something new – grazing standing corn in the summer. "Basically, we were out of feed in the silos and we could start green chopping, or we could try something different," Linnenbringer says. "I'm not sure the rest of the family was quite as enthused as I was, but it's worked out well."
The first year, he grazed about seven acres of corn with yearling steers. "Each year I keep expanding the acres and I try to expand the timeframe I'm doing it in," he says. "I did about 40 acres last year." The 40 acres had about 200,000 pounds grazing it. "I've been grazing the corn post-tassel, all the way to dry corn when they pick and shell it," he says.
Although not the most commonly-used practice, the savings speak for themselves. "When I ran the numbers using two pounds a day gain two years ago, I was grossing $140 an acre more grazing than harvesting, and I didn't have a $75 chop bill."
Because the cattle leave manure behind, it doesn't require any hauling, and leaves nutrients in the ground for the following crop. After the first year of doing this, Linnenbringer says the benefit was obvious in his following wheat crop. "You could just see where the nutrients were left versus where they weren't."
Several things must be done to graze standing corn. Linnenbringer uses a system similar to rotational grazing., involving a single electric fence wire along a tree line with a water line running through for a border. He then runs another fence running perpendicular to the border for a row of paddocks, each separated by nylon wire, giving the field a checkerboard layout. He uses AgLeader guidance system using an Android tablet with a GPS to keep track of the acres he has grazed. "I never have to get out," he says. "I made a bar [on the Gator] that lays the corn over wide enough that the Gator can fit through."
It requires planting at different times. Linnenbringer gets three grazing periods off of the entire field, rotating corn, corn and then wheat or rye. "When I'm done with one section, I will go in and plant it immediately, so I can get something growing again as fast as possible," he says. "So in this system the ideal is that I'll have successional plantings. Then you're going to have different sized corn coming along."
Any corn hybrid can be grazed, but Linnenbringer prefers the Amaizing Graze hybrid from Baldridge Hybrids of Ohio. "It tillers at the bottom, so it sends up multiple stalks," he notes. "When you drop that one seed in, you can get three ears off that one seed." He has even grazed sweet corn stalks after picking the ears, which have a high sugar content. "They'll graze a sweet corn patch to nothing," he says. "They'll lick the ground."
Having legumes helps fix nitrogen for the corn. "I am planning on planting legumes and the corn together, and intermixing it with a split-row planter," Linnenbringer says. "Hopefully the legumes can provide some nitrogen for the corn." He is also planting clover as a perennial cover crop to plant corn over. "Ideally, I'll have a clover understory that is a permanent cover," he says. "The clover can survive periodic grazing and you can come back and keep your ground covered."