When feeding animals, it’s important to consider all the ins and outs of a healthy diet.
So, where do soybeans fall?
Will soybeans kill cattle if you add them to their feed?
Soybeans can serve as a safe part of cattle diet if implemented correctly. The primary concern about soybeans is urease and a trypsin-inhibiting protein. However, this doesn’t mean soybeans are toxic to cattle and are safe and nutritious as long as these factors are considered.
Keeping your animals safe is likely at the forefront of your mind as a caretaker.
Keep reading, and we’ll look at everything you need to know about cattle and soybeans.
Do Livestock Eat Soybeans?
Soybeans can offer a lot of dietary benefits to livestock.
They offer a lot of crude protein to help keep your animals going, and they’re an addition many livestock animals love in their diet.
In fact, according to the USDA, more than 70% of the soybeans grown within the United States are used in animal feed.
Soybeans break down into about 20% fat with 40% crude protein.
Most commonly, chickens are the top consumers of soybeans, but pigs, as well as dairy and beef cattle, can enjoy soybeans.
Soy also helps optimize nitrogen use efficiency and improve nitrogen balance.
Can Cows Digest Soybeans?
Cows can digest soybeans, but they fare better with processed soybeans.
Raw soybeans have higher risks for issues like mold and urease.
The urinary urea nitrogen use is the main concern with raw soy.
As such, options like soybean meal are often employed in feeding livestock animals like cattle.
Soybeans, particularly raw soybeans, are often hard for calves to digest. As such, many farmers avoid soybeans for young calves.
Are Beef Cows Fed Soy?
How beef and dairy cows are raised often differs since they’re raised for different purposes.
For example, dairy cows don’t often focus on a linear increase in gaining mass as beef cattle.
Their diets may differ slightly without the need for daily gain, but soy, when fed to cattle properly, is a rather versatile option to add to their diet.
Farmers feed soybeans to beef cows and dairy cows because it’s a great source of protein and one of the best natural nitrogen sources.
Are Soybeans Toxic to Cattle?
Generally speaking, soybeans are great for cattle when they’re implemented correctly into their feed.
However, there are a few cases where it’s best to avoid feeding your cows soybeans, especially when it comes to raw, unprocessed soybeans.
Concerns About Raw Soybeans
For one, raw soybeans contain something called urease.
When consumed by animals also eating something with urea, the result is this urea breaking down into ammonia.
This is toxic and even fatal to cattle, meaning urea and raw soybeans are best avoided at all costs.
According to Mississippi State University, raw soybeans aren’t recommended for calves before they reach 300 pounds or if they’re still nursing.
A Meal in Moderation
You also can’t just give your cattle soybeans in replacement for all of their dry matter feed.
It’s a plant best enjoyed in moderation.
You aren’t adding additional nutrient intake when you further increase soybean intake in an animal’s diet.
Rather, the idea is to incorporate soybeans as a part of a more balanced cattle diet.
As a general rule of thumb when it comes to limits for cattle, don’t exceed feeding a cow more than two or three pounds of soybeans a day.
At this point, look for some alternative feeds for your cattle.
Concerns About Mold in Soybeans
Soybean quality is crucial as well.
Even if you feed them within their limitations, tainted soybeans can still lead to illness.
Damaged, molded soybeans can risk aflatoxicosis, leading to illness and even death.
Avoid this by putting your soybeans through an aflatoxin screening before you use them as a bit of extra protein in your feed.
Again, this problem is more heavily associated with the risk of raw soybeans in an animal diet.
Can You Graze Cattle on Soybeans?
So far, we’ve looked at a few different precautions when feeding your cattle soybeans.
Because of these concerns, it’s better to introduce soybeans to your cow’s diet in a controlled manner rather than allowing them to graze freely on the plants.
This is likely to lead to overeating which can bring about fatal concerns of ammonia toxicity, especially in the case of low-quality forage.
Can You Feed Treated Soybeans to Cattle?
It’s not uncommon for plants to be treated while they grow to prevent damage from things like insects.
If your soybeans are treated with herbicides, don’t use them as cattle feed or any other livestock, according to the Regional Livestock Specialist at the University of Missouri.
The label should notify you if the plants were treated with herbicides during growth if you purchase your soybeans from an outside source.
Further Reading: 2,4-D and other weed killers hurting cattle
Will Cows Eat Bean Stubble?
Technically, your cows will eat the bean stubble inherent to soybeans.
Yet, the soybean stubble isn’t as rich in nutrients as beans.
The stubble and pods of soybeans only offer a ratio of about 4 % to 6% of crude protein, which isn’t a lot for your cattle.
If you depend on bean stubble too heavily, you’ll likely see your cattle start to lose weight.
Do Soybeans Make Good Hay?
The low nutrient value of bean stubble doesn’t mean it isn’t useful at all.
It’s possible to use soybeans as a great extension for hay or straw.
It’s not uncommon to see soybeans used the same way as clover or alfalfa.
Related: Is clover bad for cows?
What is the Difference Between Soybean and Soybean Meal?
As we’ve covered, there are a lot of risks to offering cattle raw soybeans.
As a result, many farmers turn to soybean meal instead.
Most soybean meal is used for livestock feed, although a small amount is used for human consumption.
Soybean meal is first heat-treated, which helps it to avoid the risks associated with raw soybeans.
As meal, the soybeans are also ground up.
Depending on the soybean meal in question, the recipe may or may not contain the hulls of the soybean in the final product.