Considerations for Utilizing CRP Forages in Beef Cattle Diets

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Cattle grazing in CRP field.


AMES, Iowa – The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has released Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for emergency haying and grazing of 24 counties in western Iowa. Utilizing this additional forage resource provides producers with opportunities as well as challenges.

Here are some considerations to think through when deciding how to utilize the forage.

Forage Quality
At best, forage quality of CRP acres harvested this late in the year is comparable to corn stalks. The last time the acres were hayed or grazed, the CRP program, and forage species present determined quality. Additionally, plants have been stressed this summer due to lack of moisture, and therefore, are more mature than normal. Previous samples of CRP forage have demonstrated crude protein values as low as 2% to as high as 8%, and energy values are frequently below 50% TDN.  

Feeding Considerations
Due to the low forage quality, it is important to get a nutrient analysis on the forage resource to know what you are working with. Regardless of stage of production or class of cattle, additional energy and protein supplementation will be necessary to meet gestating cow or fed cattle nutritional requirements.

More importantly, be aware of unwanted products and debris (cans, shotgun shells, old fencing, garbage, etc.) that may be present. To decrease the risk, avoid harvesting acres immediately alongside the ditch or fence line. 

Weed Presence
Pay attention to weed presence and make sure you know if there any toxicities associated with that weed. CRP acres tend to contain a large amount of weeds or other forages, and seed heads, that are not desired in pastures, hay fields, or even crop fields. Carefully consider your feeding areas when utilizing CRP hay to reduce the area where new weeds are being introduced through seed dispersal of the hay or manure deposition or spreading. With drought stressed forages, bare ground will increase the likelihood of weeds next spring. 

Water Sources
If grazing CRP acres, carefully evaluate water sources. Many ponds in Western Iowa have experienced prolonged periods of hot temperatures and minimal influx of new water, which is the perfect environment for algae blooms. Watch for blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which is a major health risk for cattle. Use caution when hauling water to cows. Avoid utilizing liquid fertilizer tanks to haul water, as it cannot be cleaned out well enough to prevent nitrate poisoning. 

If you have questions regarding forage sampling or utilizing CRP forages in beef cattle diets, contact your ISU extension beef specialist. For additional resources dealing with drought, please visit


The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about IBC, visit

Erika Lundy, ISU Extension and Outreach beef specialist, 641-745-5902,

Sherry Hoyer, Iowa Beef Center, 515-294-4496,

2020 News and releases