BALANCING ACT Barley is the mainstay of Herman Stroeve’s cattle-feeding business but his 600 acres of corn also play a key role
Corn silage has become Herman Stroeve’s secret weapon in producing fine beef.
“Barley is still the backbone of a full-feed cattle operation, but corn adds some balance to the cattle ration.”
Stroeve, along with 11 siblings, came to Canada from Holland more than 50 years ago and, with his brothers, built a cattle-feeding venture that maintains about 7,000 head year round in the Picture Butte area. About 15 years ago, he bought some sandy loam land, a purchase questioned at the time by many. Stroeve calculated that land, with a pivot sprinkler, could be a foundation for a corn silage venture. Today, the farm annually grows about 600 acres of corn, silaging with a used chopper and stockpiling the silage until needed.
Long gone are the days he would use custom operators to plant and harvest the crop. His first planting venture was with a hoe grain drill, which quickly gave way to a standard corn planter to obtain optimum depth control and plant population. He settled on 22-inch row spacing, similar to that used to plant sugar beets. Planting seeds six inches apart achieves his preferred 3,200-plant-per-acre population.
Stroeve’s sandy loam soil corn experiment continues to draw ‘ahs’ from passersby amazed at the tremendous plant stand.
“It is the right kind of soil,” he said. “It is also vital to plant the crop when the soil has warmed enough and the soil texture is loose.”
He has planted corn on that land every year for the past 12 years and “last year’s crop was beautiful.” He has moved to Round-up Ready corn, even on the more clay-based land, but his sandy loam allows him to use higher-heat-unit varieties that produce higher yields.
Chemical-resistant volunteers, such as canola from neighbouring fields, can be a problem that requires Stroeve to cultivate and then apply Atrazine, which doesn’t affect corn.
Stroeve chops the entire corn plant into six- to eight-inch pieces, including the cobs, to “make it as palatable as possible.” He starts cattle on the corn ration as soon as they are introduced to the feed pens, watching early in the year when corn energy from the previous year’s crop is high. When that is the situation, he adds some hay to the corn silage. Stroeve said the feeding operation, when full, uses about a super-B of barley daily.
He also grows barley, but the crop struggles if it gets dry for a few days.
“But with the corn, you put the water to it and it keeps growing,” he said. “It’s the best crop I’ve grown for production.”