Can Damaged or Discolored Soybeans be used as Cattle Feed?

Can Damaged or Discolored Soybeans be used as Cattle Feed?

The wet conditions that delayed harvest have resulted in some loads of soybeans being rejected or sold at a large discount. Rejected beans can be used as a feed for cattle. If beans have significant mold present, they should be tested prior to feeding.

Feeding Damaged Soybeans

Purple stained soybean
Figure 1. Soybeans can be used as a livestock feed. With discolored soybeans, crop and livestock producers are asking about soybeans being fed to livestock. It's recommended to test for quality. (Photo courtesy Jenny Rees)

Damaged or discolored soybeans can be used as a protein source for cattle. Soybeans can be a good protein source for cows and can be used in developing heifers as well as growing and finishing rations.

Soybeans are typically about 40% crude protein and 20% fat. Due to the high fat content, damaged soybeans can become rancid; however, in cold weather this is less of an issue. It is typically recommended to limit the amount of whole soybean in the diet to less than 10-20% on a dry matter basis as too high of fat content can negatively affect the bacteria in the rumen. The protein in soybeans is highly ruminally degradable and thus may not result in similar gains for growing cattle as compared to distillers grains when used in forage-based rations. It is also important to note that urea should not be used in rations in which raw soybeans are being used. Raw soybeans contain urease that can rapidly turn urea into ammonia and cause ammonia toxicity.

For additional tips regarding feeding whole soybeans see Whole Raw Soybeans as a Cost Competitive Protein Supplement for Cows and Calves.

Testing for Feed Value

When buying damaged or discolored soybeans, it is prudent to have a feed analysis conducted on the soybeans to get an accurate assessment of their feed value. Deterioration in quality can occur due to weathering.

In evaluating if soybeans are price competitive to other protein sources, it is valuable to compare them on a dry matter basis to other common feeds frequently used as a protein source. For this example we will compare whole raw soybeans to alfalfa hay and dried distillers grains on a price per unit of protein.

Table 1. Comparing price per unit of protein for three cattle feeds.
FeedPrice Per Ton% Protein% Dry MatterPrice Per lb
Protein DM
Whole Soybeans $243 40 86 $0.35/lb
Dried Distillers $160 30 90 $0.30/lb
Alfalfa Hay $100 18 85 $0.32/lb

In this example raw whole soybeans at 40% protein would need to be at $6.25 per bushel (or $208/ton) or less to have a price per pound of crude protein that would be competitive with $160/ton dried distillers grains.

The bottom line number that producers need to know is the cost per pound of nutrient, either protein or energy, consumed by the cattle after all expenses and waste loss occur to accurately compare different feed options. The Feed Cost Cow-Q-Lator spreadsheet and NU Beef cowQlate app are two tools that allow producers to compare feed costs. They include delivery and storage expense as well as feeding cost and waste loss.

Grazing Mature Soybeans Standing in the Field

Some farmers with fields that are still too wet to harvest or that have had excessive bean drop are considering not harvesting beans. These fields can be grazed. However, it is important to understand that the plant itself has very little nutritional value (low in protein and energy) and thus a forage source, such as corn residue or hay must be provided. Cattle may select full bean pods and can scour if they consume too much. One way to avoid this is to provide limited access to soybeans. Providing palatable hay or another feed may also reduce the likelihood of cattle overeating soybeans. Remember, do not provide access to blocks, tubs, or supplements that contain urea when allowing access to raw soybeans.

Damaged or discolored soybeans can be a good source of protein for cattle. Effectively comparing them to other readily available sources of protein can help identify what is a “fair” value for the soybeans as cattle feed.

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