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Soybeans May Be Viable Cattle Feed Option

North Dakota producers having trouble selling soybeans for the export market this year should consider feeding the soybeans to beef cattle, North Dakota State University Extension livestock experts say.

Soybeans can be used as a protein supplement for beef cattle, as long as the beans are a small part of the cattle’s diet, according to Karl Hoppe, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center.

“Whole soybeans typically contain about 40 percent protein and 20 percent fat,” he says. “Nutrient analysis is recommended on soybeans prior to feeding to correctly balance rations.”

Researchers have found that when the oil content of the ration exceeds 7 percent, it can be toxic to the microbes in the cattle’s rumen and decrease digestibility. Too much oil in cattle rations will lead to scours (diarrhea), cessation of rumen fermentation and, eventually, death.

“Because of these limitations, the recommended upper limit of feeding would be about 20 percent of the ration,” Hoppe says. “Practical feeding levels are probably more like 2 to 3 pounds per head per day. At this low rate of supplementation, soybeans provide an excellent source of protein and energy.”

For example, he recommends feeding 2.5 pounds of soybeans if the ration requires an extra pound of crude protein to meet protein requirements. For a 1,400-pound cow eating 40 pounds of feed, whole soybeans are about 6 percent of the ration.

Cattle are better able to tolerate whole soybeans than swine. Whole beans contain anti-nutrition factors, or substances that reduce the use of nutrients or food intake, which affects livestock’s growth. The beans need to be heat-treated, which inactivates these substances.

Heat treatment can be done by extruding (processing) or roasting. Soybean meal is heat-treated during the oil extraction process.

“Mature cattle appear to not be affected by the same anti-nutrition factors as swine,” says John Dhuyvetter, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s North Central Research Extension Center. “However, unprocessed soybeans should not be fed to young calves under 300 pounds.”

Also, producers should not use raw soybeans in conjunction with protein tubs, blocks or other supplements containing urea. Soybeans contain urease, which breaks down rapidly into ammonia. The combination of urea-containing products and soybeans can lead to ammonia toxicity and death.

Green soybeans, which are beans that are harvested early or frost damaged before they can become mature, also can be fed to cattle at low rates in the ration, says Janna Kincheloe, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Hettinger Research Extension Center. However, mycotoxins can be a problem in damaged soybeans.

“So, in addition to testing for oil content, producers should consider testing soybeans for mycotoxins that can impact animal health,” she notes. “Mold does not have to be visible for mycotoxins to be present, although proper drying and storage of beans reduces this potential.”

Hoppe says soybeans haven’t been used much in cattle rations because they have been more expensive than other feeds such as distillers grains, alfalfa hay and wheat midds, but the recent trade disputes that have limited U.S. soybean exports may make beans a more affordable option to provide cattle with protein.

Source: North Dakota State University

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