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Sweet corn stalks.

They have more uses than additions to the compost pile

In my area it is common for people to grow far more sweet corn than they will use. Several will allow me to chop down the still green stalks and feed them to my cattle. This has benefits for both of us.

I will get about 50 flatbed loads of fairly high quality fodder for my herd to supplement summer pasture. I'm going to guess an average load is 500 pounds, so this results in some 12-13 tons of cheap feed. Plus, about half of the stalks will still have an ear on them, some of which end up in my kitchen. Corn is known as a heavy drawer of minerals from the soil. Once processed through my cattle, not only will the tonnage of organic matter eventually result in topsoil, but those minerals will end up on my pasture as well. Cost to me is my time and gas.

(If I wanted to, I could run the stalks through a yard chipper to produce winter silage.)

For those who give them to me, they don't have to chop the stalks themselves and I leave the plot ready to be tilled for a winter crop--usually turnips. Plus, even if put on their compost pile, the stalks will take a long time to break down.

While I only have cattle, I have heard reports of people feeding stalks to horses, goats, sheep, pigs and rabbits, with these observations:

Goats, sheep and pigs will usually only eat the top half of the stalk and you may have to chop up the ears. What they leave can go on the compost pile. Running the entire stalk, ear and all, through a yard chipper, or at least chopping it into short lengths, first may be beneficial here.

One person cautions not to give too much to a horse at one time as they may get colic. Stalks should be a supplement to hay, not a replacement. (He also noted their horses will leave a field of lush grass to come up to get the stalks.)

One person feeds them green during the season to his rabbits and puts the rest, still green, under cover for drying. During winter he will chop up lengths to feed the rabbits a little each day. The rabbits love the stalks even dried out.

I will note one person let me haul off some field corn he used to support pole beans. Even still green, my cattle didn't eat much more than the ears and leaves, but did enjoy all of the bean plant.

My sources for the stalks either come from word-of-mouth or through a classified ad in the local paper.

I could also haul off turnips after the first hard frost. However, only a couple of my cows like them and they have to be chopped up first. Perhaps it may be worth while for someone with pigs, though.

I have seen reports of people working in cities with microbreweries arranging to haul away the spent brewer's malt for their livestock.

Several participants of the COUNTRYSIDE Forum (www.countryside also provided comments for this article:

Connie noted: "Another great source of free feed is pumpkins. It seems that the day after Halloween, most places will give them away by the truckload. I've even had folks deliver the things. I keep a cleaver in the barn to chop batches for the goats, and the cows and pigs do well with cutting them in half. I store huge piles in the barn, in hay bale bins to keep them from freezing, and usually have feed well into February."

Clovis noted: "For years, my uncle has fed hogs from `day-olds' from a Hostess bakery in Indianapolis and a Dolly Madison bakery in another near by town. A loaded pick up truck with racks should run about $20 a load and will quickly fatten hogs.

"Another source of feed is what I call `fines,' which is the cracked and small kernels of corn that `fall out' when elevating corn into a silo. Many farmers will allow you to shovel these big mounds into your truck at no charge if you will come pick them up.

"`Hold over' seed corn used to be a great way to pick up old and left over soy beans and corn seed, but one really has to be careful with all the chemicals that are pretreated on the seed these days.

"Produce wholesalers, grocery stores and fruit stands usually have truckload deals on bad produce.

"Apple orchards in this area will sometimes allow people to pick up the `drops' and other bad apples after the season is over. I have never heard of any one using drops for feed, but why not? (Here also, try to find out what herbicides and pesticides they have been sprayed with.)

"I have also heard that some schools, restaurants and other institutions will have waste food (from people's plates or the kitchen) that can be picked up for free, and hogs love it. (Note: According to USDA rules, you can only feed plate scrapings of this nature to hogs not intended for the market. If they are, you must have a USDA license and it must be thoroughly cooked first. It is thought undercooked garbage of this nature caused the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain.)

"Canning factories, dairies, food processors, etc., have a lot of waste that can be picked up at no charge. It saves them the hassle and cost of throwing it into a dumpster."

Stan noted people used to ask to glean fields after harvest; however, most modern harvesting equipment doesn't leave much behind. He also noted he picks up fresh water seaweed for his chickens from a resort which cleans it off their beach. (In some coastal areas washed up seaweed has long been used as a feed supplement.)

Nancy noted her neighbors offered to let them take their surplus garden produce but having observed them using so much pesticides and herbicides they declined. She said you could smell it on their corn stalks.

Another regular forum participant, Don from Australia, mentioned he knows someone who is into aquaculture. They buy factory-rejected cat biscuits to use as feed.

In the past it was not unusual to interplant corn, pole beans and pumpkins to get a triple harvest off of the same plot.

(Please note: Nothing in this article should be taken as an endorsement of free or very low cost livestock feed being the principle feed for any species. A pig may grow fat on day-old white bread and Twinkies, but the meat produced may not be of a very high quality. As mentioned, insecticides, herbicides and pesticides may have been applied to the feed source. Feeds, such as mentioned in the above article, should be considered supplements, not the principle source of nutrition.)
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Previous Article:Grow herbs in winter.
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