Shown is a soybean extruder. Extruded soybeans are nutrient dense which make them ideal for cattle rations.
Shown is a soybean extruder. Extruded soybeans are nutrient dense which make them ideal for cattle rations.

By Connie Sieh Groop

Low prices for soybeans have enticed some cattle producers to turn to soybeans as a supplemental feed source this year. 

It’s not a new idea. One couple who lives along the South Dakota-Nebraska border drives 250 miles to Ramona, S.D., to pick up bagged extruded soybeans. They believe the extra protein in the beans adds a lot of nutrition, helping the animals develop muscle instead of fat. 

Evan and Dorothy Bligh ranch south of Norris and have a cow-calf-yearling operation.  They have worked together for 43 years of marriage this month, with all their cattle home-raised except bulls.  They run black cows and calve in May and June.  At one time calves were weaned in November, but for the last close to 10 years calves have been weaned in March. The extruded beans extend the time the animals are on pasture with limited amounts of hay needed during the winter months. 

The Blighs first learned about extruded soybeans from a friend they knew through rodeo.  He had a degree in ruminant nutrition from the University of Wyoming.  They liked the results and found that extruded soybeans are nutrient dense—high in protein and fat, highly digestible, and affordable.  Extruded soybeans are fed in a tub and mixed with salt to reduce consumption.  The Blighs think extruded soybeans save on grass and help cattle maintain condition and have super-looking hair.

Dorothy says, “Their hair looks really good. That’s a real giveaway of their body condition.”

LD Henrichs of the Ramona Feed Warehouse agrees. “The hair coat of the animals fed with beans is amazing. These calves just glow and it’s because of the available oil in the beans. That’s the first thing noticed at the salebarns. The auctioneers will talk about the hair coat and the shine. Cattle buyers are missing weights on calves going through the ring as the soybeans produce more muscle than pure fat. It’s been good.”

Extruded soybean are in strong demand. Henrichs says their extruder runs eight hours a day, five days a week, at 1,400 lbs. an hour. That’s about 28 ½ tons a week. And it’s shipped out as fast as it can be produced. An extruder In Hoven is owned and operated by Toby Klocker at Custom Feeds produces the same volume, sold through Hoven Equity Elevator.

Henrichs owns the Ramona facilty and is a representative for McNess feed. He said some producers may not recognize the level of soybeans going into their rations. The extruded beans are mixed with other products for pelleted feeds for a number of species but there are a lot of cattle people who are purchasing the beans specifically for their calves.  Henrichs says, “We probably have from 5,000 to 12,000  head of calves on extruded beans with a combination of DDGs.”

“The price of soybeans has a lot to do with demand and the price of calves,” Henrichs says. “The extruded beans are at 38 percent protein and 20 percent fat. The extrusion process cooks the beans to 350 degrees in about 6 seconds using friction and pressure. It destroys the trypsin and urease inhibitors. These enzymes protect the beans protein and the extruder kills them. The extruder dehydrates, sterilizes, and grinds the beans all at the same time, leaving the oil and protein practically 100% digestible.”

Some choose to have the crop they produce processed for cattle feed. He says, “Producers can save in another way by bringing in their beans and having us extrude them. They won’t get their own beans back but trade their beans and this cuts out the middle man. It costs them $55 a ton. That’s a driver more than anything this year.”

With an extruder located just three miles from his operation, Dale DeRouchey of Hoven has fed extruded soybeans to his calves since the 1980s. He used to milk cows and found the product was a real benefit in milk production. Now he continues to see the benefits as he offers it as creep feed to his herd which includes 275 calves. 

“I put out the creep feeders when we’re calving and the calves get used to them,” DeRouchey says. “Then we’ll add in some of the feed and they’ll eat a bit of the ration while they’re playing around. They are offered it when they go to grass with the cows. They stay on it until they are sold off the cows in November.”

Because of the extra fat in using his own soybean, DeRouchey says it’s as cheap a feed as you can get. Because the whole bean goes through the extruder, it has a high fat content which would not be in soybean meal that is purchased. 

“In the fall I take in a semi-load of beans to be processed (at the Hoven plant). I bring them back and by the next fall, it’s all used up. When the price of soybeans is high, the price of soybean meal is high. In a year like this, it really makes sense.”

Because of the close proximity to the extruder, he says a number of his neighbors follow the same regimen. 

Grass was tight in many places. For some, a ration of corn, oats and extruded beans became a big part of the diet this year. Cattle producers feed ½ pound to a pound a day. 

The product is popular with dairies. They had fed distillers in the past. With the price of beans and the extra protein, every other month 20-30 tons are shipped out Hoven to Montana dairies. Since the fat and protein content are higher, an equivalent amount of extruded beans can be shipped in one semi-load vs. two semi-loads of distillers. 

Today’s soybean market

Does feeding whole soybeans to growing or finishing cattle make economic sense?  

SDSU Extension Beef Specialist Warren Rusche notes, “Changing market conditions sometimes result in “rules” that no longer apply. The market environment for soybeans looks to be dramatically different across the U.S. and particularly in the Northern Plains. Basis levels much wider than normal and concerns about the ability to deliver soybeans in a timely manner have caused some to wonder if feeding whole soybeans to cattle is a viable strategy.”

Whole soybeans are an excellent source of protein (about 40% on a dry basis) and fit into a cattle diet as a source of protein and as energy. For most cattle feeders the cost effectiveness of soybeans depends on the prices of distillers and corn.  

The breakeven soybean prices are less than what is currently being offered in the marketplace showing the clear cost advantage for feeding corn and corn-based byproducts. Even at the low current prices for soybeans farmer feeders would be ahead to rely on DGS and corn for their cattle feed and either sell or store soybeans for a (hopefully) better price later.

There may be circumstances where feeding the beans is still the best (or least bad) option. For instance, soybeans that aren’t marketable because of frost damage or other quality factors could be fed to livestock as a way to capture otherwise lost value. There also could be cases in certain locations where marketing channels become so congested that cash bids dry up and storage options are limited.

The amount of soybeans that can be fed to cattle is limited due to their high fat content. Based on SDSU research, the amount of whole soybeans for cattle should be limited to 14 percent of diet dry matter to reduce the negative effects of the oil on fiber digestibility and nitrogen utilization. That represents about 2 pounds per head for growing calves and about 3 to 4 pounds for finishing cattle consuming greater quantities of feed.

Avoid feeding raw soybeans to very young, pre-ruminating calves because of trypsin inhibitor which interferes with digestion in monogastrics. Soybeans also contain urease which breaks down urea into ammonia. Feeding raw soybeans along with protein supplements containing urea (such as lick tubs, protein blocks, and some liquid or dry supplements) could result in ammonia toxicity and cattle death.

These two obstacles can be overcome by heat treating soybeans by through either extrusion or roasting which inactivates both enzymes. Heat treatment also increases the amount of ruminally undegradable protein (RUP). Increased RUP has been associated with improved performance, particularly on more productive classes of livestock such as young, fast-growing cattle.

Feeding whole soybeans to cattle is an option to market a portion of a soybean crop in an otherwise challenging year. Cattle producers need to weigh the costs and use limitations carefully to determine if this option makes sense in their operation.