Soybeans aren’t usually the first commodity that come to mind in a dairy cattle ration, but with a change in feed supplies and prices, more farmers are turning to one of soybeans’ many forms in their rations.
“Soybeans are kind of like the new kid on the block,” says Chelsea Schossow, dairy nutrition and product specialist for Form-A-Feed. “When we think of how our grandparents farmed, they fed corn, corn silage and they fed hay.”
Minnesota’s soybeans are uniquely positioned for integration into the diet of dairy cattle. Soybeans grown in the northern region typically have a lower crude protein but higher Critical Amino Acids Value (CAAV) of the five most critical amino acids: lysine, cysteine, methionine, threonine and tryptophan.
“Soybeans are an excellent source of essential amino acids, especially for lactating cattle. Soybeans have the greatest amount of lysine compared to other commodities and that drives milk production. Methionine is really good for metabolic health and reproduction,” Schossow says. “I try to balance for essential amino acids rather than just adjusted protein.”
Certain amino acids also influence the protein percentages of milk.
“When we have producers getting paid for components of milk, we can increase the methionine to hopefully get a return for our producers,” Schossow says.
Why are dairy bypass proteins so important to the dairy industry? These proteins don’t degrade in the rumen. This means they can make it through to the cow’s gastrointestinal tract where essential amino acids can be used by the cow for milk production.
Schossow has also noted a better weight gain and easier conversion to a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) for first time heifers when feeding soybeans.
“The young heifers really transition better from their corn starter to a total mixed ration with soy. They need something they want to eat,” she says. “Soy is extremely palatable and we are looking for methionine for reproductive health.”
With the recent shuttering of many ethanol plants during the COVID-19 pandemic, producers lost access to Dried Distillers Grains (DDGs), and they had to adjust feed rations and turn to other ingredients.
“We look for the most economical price and way to feed our cows. Right now with distillers off the market, soy has become a game changer for a lot of dairies. If we are able to slowly remove the distillers and introduce a soy product, the cows do a lot better,” says Schossow. “What I’ve seen when I’ve pulled distillers out – I replaced it with our soys, a meal and hulls and the cows transitioned perfectly. We removed a little bit of starch, but we kept the nutrient analysis in spec and floated the ingredients.”
Dr. David Kee, director of research with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, agrees that adopting the change slowly in feed rations is best.
“Once the unknown is known, the situation changes. That is the beauty of soybean meal; it is a longtime friend. You know how it will perform,” he says. “The purpose of any ration is to meet the animals’ nutritional needs at the most affordable price.”
According to Kee, Minnesota’s soybean farmers can readily meet an increase in demand for livestock feed.
“Yields in 2018 were very close to 50 bushel per-acre state wide with some county averages topping 75 bushel/acre,” he says. “Soybeans have moved from being a minor crop, primarily grown for forage in 1930 to a major grain crop, grown worldwide in 2020. Soybeans are not in short supply.”
A soybean’s strength, Schossow says, lies in its unique profile.
“Soybeans really are an extremely versatile commodity and have come a long ways,” Schossow says. “It works very well within Minnesota’s rotation cropping for farmers, and can feed soybeans in a wide variety of ways.”