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Corn stalks get an upgrade

A new process for making corn stalks more palatable and nutritious for cattle is being rolled out by ADM Alliance Nutrition. It’s just in time to help make up for the hay shortage brought on by the drought of 2012.

ADM’s new product, called Second Crop, uses an alkaline solution, calcium hydroxide, that is mixed with water and added to dry corn stalks during or after grinding in a tub grinder. The solution begins to break down the fiber-lignin bonds, making it more soluble and easier for cow rumen microbes to extract energy, says ADM beef feed specialist John Klein. The process may ultimately have application for breaking down cellulose for ethanol production. In the meantime, it makes stalks more palatable to cattle.

"We have an on-farm treatment system that we’ve tested for the last couple of years," says Klein. "It allows us to treat the stalks as they are being processed in a grinder. It reduces the particle size of the stalks with the grinder and exposes more of the available energy. The alkaline solution adds to that."

More stalks, less corn

Harvested corn stalks typically come out of the field at 10-14% moisture, says Klein. As they go through the grinder, the liquid alkaline slurry is applied to bring the moisture level up to about 50%. It usually takes 100 to 115 gallons of water per 1,500-pound bale of stalks. Then they are put in a bunker or packed and covered like corn silage, and allowed to go through an anaerobic curing process. "We recommend waiting 10 days before feeding," says Klein.

University research shows that the digestibility of the stalks can be increased 40% or more, he says. When the treated stalks are added to rations and balanced for protein, cattle performance is maintained with higher levels of stalks and lower amounts of corn. "Because the treated stalks cost less than corn today, they lower the cost of gain in a feedlot situation,” says Klein. 

"When we look at cow and stocker diets, we have similar potential to lower costs there as well," he continues. "We have several producers using the treated stalks to replace hay in these diets. The treated stalks appear to be more palatable to the cattle than just dry stalks. The hard nodules and shanks of the stalks soften and the cattle sort less of the product. Of course, you may have to balance protein with co-products like gluten and proper amino acids. The alkaline treatment does not change the protein of the stalks or any other things that are pertinent to using it."

ADM calls this product and process of treating crop residue Second Crop. In feedlot trials, the treated and ensiled corn stalks have replaced up to 20% of the corn grain in feedlot rations without hindering performance. 

The economics

Klein estimates that a farmer can produce the treated, palatable corn stalk silage for between $40 and $80 per ton, including the cost of the stalks, grinding, and alkaline treatment. You could compare that to the cost of hay in your locality, adjusted to equal dry matter. Klein thinks the stalks will be very cost competitive with medium-quality hay, which recently has been priced at  $130 per ton or higher.

Acclimating cattle to the treated stalks is important, he says. Young calves especially may have to be acclimated in small steps. Feeding levels of the stalks will vary based on other ingredients in the diet and their cost. With the drought this year, it’s a good idea to test the stalks for mycotoxins and nitrates before they are treated, Klein says.

“With corn at $7, it's a very good economic return. If corn was $3.50 a bushel, it would still be about breakeven," he says.  Currently, Klein says, the Second Crop pilot program is available in parts of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. ADM trained technicians bring application equipment for the alkaline slurry to the farm. The farmer supplies the stalks, a water source, and a tub grinder. 

Learn More

Contact John Klein at ADM Alliance Nutrition, phone 712-647-8611, email


Producer: This feed perfect for cows

Woodbine, Iowa, beef producer Lynn Barry has been using the Second Crop corn stalk treatment for four years while the product has been in development. He uses the treated stalks to stretch silage and hay supplies for his stockers, feedlot, and cow herd. “Without this, corn stalks are basically like cardboard, with about 5% protein and limited energy,” says Barry. “This process releases the energy in the stalks for the cattle to utilize. It’s silage without the grain or the cobs.”

Barry hires a custom tub grinder to grind the 1,500-pound corn stalk bales and add the Second Crop liquid mixture. Every two weeks they process about 400 round bales at about 40 tons an hour, and either put it in a bunker silo or pack it into a pile.  “We let it steep for six or seven days before we start feeding a new pile,” he says.

It takes 80 to 110 gallons of water for each bale of stalks processed, depending on beginning moisture content, to bring the finished product to 50-55% moisture. Barry has three tanker trucks that he fills with water for processing days. It costs about $30 per ton of stalks to grind and mix the Second Crop solution. “It’s well worth it,” he says.

“The only problem I experience is on light cattle, where acceptance can be an issue. They’re fussy eaters, so we have to work them on to it slowly.” For the calves and feedlot cattle, the stalks are balanced with other ingredients, including ethanol byproducts, for protein.

Barry likes the particle size of the ground stalks to be small, about one to two inches, especially for light calves. They’ll sort bigger chunks and leave them in the bunk. As the animals get bigger, acceptance is less of an issue. Mature cows will eat it all, even particles that are three or four inches long from the grinder.

“I think the real advantage of this is going to be with the cow herd,” says Barry. “Treated stalks are perfect for them, it might keep them through the winter without any other supplement, depending on the analysis."

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