Soybeans in Pod
Raw whole soybeans can be an excellent protein source when utilized as a supplement. Photo courtesy of USDA-NRCS.

Current market conditions for raw, whole soybeans are making them price competitive in parts of Nebraska with other protein sources such as distillers grains and alfalfa hay to be used as a protein supplement for cows as well as weaned calves.

The following are some principles to remember when feeding raw, whole soybeans to cattle.

  • Soybeans are approximately 40% crude protein and 20% fat.
  • Soybeans should be introduced gradually into the diet.
  • High fat levels in cattle diets can negatively impact fiber digestion.  Soybeans should not be feed a level higher than needed to meet protein requirements in the diet.  In growing calves, limit soybeans to 7% of the diet or less and 5% or less in finishing diets.
  • Raw soybeans contain a trypsin inhibiting enzyme that is important to protein digestion in non-ruminants and monogastrics.  Nursing calves and calves less than 300 pounds should not be fed raw whole soybeans.
  • The protein in soybeans is approximately 70% rumen degradable and 30% rumen undegradable.   Growing calves being fed corn silage and other feeds that are low in rumen undegradable protein show improved average daily gain performance when protein sources such as distillers grains that are high in rumen undegradeable protein are utilized to meet protein needs.  Feeding raw whole soybeans in the place of distiller’s grains to meet protein needs in a diet that is predominantly corn silage would likely result in decreased animal performance.
  • Raw whole soybeans have a total digestible nutrient value of 91%.  While they are a price competitive protein source at current commodity prices, there are other sources of energy that are more economical. Therefore they should be used primarily to meet protein requirements.
  • For mature cows on forage based diets, soybeans should not be fed at more than 10% of the diet on a dry matter basis.  This would be approximately 2-3 pounds on a daily basis.  Cows needing 0.4 of a pound of supplemental crude protein per head per day could be fed two pounds every other day and meet their protein requirement.

Raw whole soybeans can be an excellent protein source when utilized as a supplement.  Producers looking for an economical protein source for cows to complement low quality forage should consider the potential of using raw whole soybeans this fall and winter.

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Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln