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Options for Feeding Drought Damaged Corn

Categories: GROWING, CORN
Drought damaged corn.
Dry conditions during the crop growing season can lead to poor grain fill or irregular ear development. Areas experiencing insufficient irrigation water or drought combined with severe heat stress can encounter extremely low or no kernel development. When this occurs, growers must explore alternative options for utilizing drought damaged corn. This article will look closer at 5 feeding options that can help avoid a total crop loss. Before acting on any of these opportunities, discuss options with your crop insurance agent and file a claim if possible. Also, review labels of any prior pesticide applications to understand if any restrictions might limit your ability to feed drought damaged corn to livestock.


  • Silage from drought-impacted corn may have decreased energy content compared to a more typical year, thus, it is important to adjust rations based on nutrient content.
  • Plants that have died will lose moisture very quickly and possibly be too dry for proper ensiling.
  • If any grain is developing, delay harvest if possible. Rainfall can increase total grain dry matter and improve silage quality.
  • Grain fill, maturity and plant height will vary within drought-stressed corn fields resulting in inconsistent silage quality.
  • Chop corn at a proper moisture content for the type of silo structure in which it will be stored. Silage corn should be stored at 65%-70% moisture in a bunker or trench silo and at 60%-65% moisture in upright silos.
  • Chop silage high and fine for the best packing results and reduced nitrate levels.

Green Chop or Feeding Green

  • Chopping and feeding fresh, green corn can be an alternative to ensiling.
  • This method requires feeding immediately after harvest to avoid heating up and allowing nitrates to be converted to the even more toxic “nitrite” forms.
  • Ensure no chop remains in feed bunkers after livestock finish feeding so that nitrites do not form in leftover feed.


  • Baling and wrapping corn stover at 45%-55% moisture is another option for properly ensiling corn as baleage. Ensiling fermentation will reduce potential nitrate risk similarly to producing silage.
  • Wrap bales in plastic of the appropriate thickness within 12 hours of baling to limit oxygen interaction and ensure good fermentation.
  • Ensile bales for 28-36 days prior to feeding for proper fermentation.
Hybrid that did not successfully pollinate due to drought and heat stress (left) vs. earlier relative maturity hybrid that was able to pollinate (right). Note leaves on drought-stressed plants turning purple due to accumulation of sugars that would have gone to grain fill.


  • Corn too dry for ensiling can be baled as dry stover.
  • Cut corn stover 8-10 in. above the ground while some green tissue still exists and allow to dry down (up to 7-10 days in some cases) before baling.    
  • Ensure stover reaches <20% moisture before baling to avoid
    storage issues. Consider crimping to improve the wilting process.
  • Test the hay nitrate levels before feeding to livestock — nitrate
    concentrations will not decline in corn stover harvested as hay.


  • Grazing standing corn is possible but requires extra management steps to ensure success.
    • Restrict grazing to portions of the field and rotate to other areas using fencing.
    • Don’t overgraze and force cattle to consume the bottom part of the stalk as nitrates may be an issue.
    • Acclimate cattle to higher grain intake before allowing them to graze standing corn.
  • Windrowing corn stover for winter grazing may also be an option but does require additional management considerations to ensure appropriate nitrate levels.

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