Soybeans are on the rise in popularity as an alternative to the more commonly used livestock forage, such as alfalfa. Soybean forage offers an affordable and highly digestible option to supplement feed for beef cattle, dairy cattle, and horses, to name a few. Additionally, forage soybeans for livestock have been used more and more in recent years because they are hardy and are adaptable to field conditions and location.
Forage Soybean Facts
Why should you consider forage soybeans for livestock, deer, turkey, duck?
Can produce up to 10 tons of high protein forage per acre
Good nutritional yield - Crude Protein shows to be 20% or greater, ADF of 30%, and NDF to be at least 40%
Cost-effective source of highly palatable forage protein (both foliage and pods provide digestible protein)
Can be grazed and harvested for hay or silage
Can be grown across a wide geographic range (very adaptable to growing conditions)
Forage soybeans fit well in a production system following small grains or early planted corn
Available in Glyphosate Tolerant Forage Soybeans (Roundup Ready®) and Non-GMO soybean forage varieties
Grow as a pure silage crop or intercropped with corn, sorghum, millet, or sorghum Sudan grass
Flexible harvest dates and quality remains good over a long period
Forage Soybeans for Hay, Silage, and Grazing
For the best success when growing soybeans for forage, it’s important to consider these management techniques:
Test your soil's pH, and adjust to reach the 6.5 to 6.7 range.
Use a soybean inoculant applied using a sticker and exposure of the inoculated seed to sunlight should be limited.
Plant in narrow rows to encourage better crop canopy development and weed control early in the season.
To reduce the stem size, high plant populations (175,000 to 200,000 seeds per acre) should be drilled or planted following conventional or no-till planting methods.
Select herbicides that have no label restrictions for soybean forage.
Seeding rates for soybean forage should not be less than those for grain soybeans (175,000 to 200,000 seeds per acre). Harvesting soybeans for forage is usually done from beginning pod to beginning seed stages, but earlier maturity at harvest is actually recommended. Harvesting at flowering or early pod set in high quality forage due to leafiness and higher quality stems. Once the plants start setting pods and begin filling the pods protein moves from the leaves and stems to the seed. Protein is not lost but where it is stored changes.
Livestock Forage Soybean Nutritional Quality
Soybeans for livestock forage are successful due to the high nutritional quality and digestible protein provided from both foliage and pods. Soybean forage has high digestibility, around 77% and neutral detergent fiber at around 48%, depending on the time of harvest. Harvesting soybean earlier in its maturity results in increased CP concentration, which usually averages around 19%. Fat concentrations also depend on the time of harvesting and usually range from 2-6%. The quality of forage soybeans varies depending on the variety, stage of growth, age, and harvesting losses. The soybean is unique in that the quantity of protein and digestible energy material per acre increase after flowering until near maturity. This means that soybeans maintain their high quality for a long period because of the high protein and energy content of the developing seed. The mature seed typically contains 40% protein and 20% oil.
The key takeaway from this is that the quality of nutrition in forage soybeans varies greatly depending on harvesting and growth time. For the most accurate nutritional analysis of your forage, you may want to consider an analysis by a professional lab.
Silage and Hay - Forage Soybeans
Soybean forage for silage is a better method than baling as dry hay because more dry matter is retained during harvest and storage. The best hay from soybeans comes when they are harvested in the R3 to R5 growth stages. Harvesting for silage is best during the R3 to R6 stages (the later the stage, the more fermentation issues may arise due to higher oil content), thus harvest just prior to leaf loss and closest to maturity. A conditioner can be added and dried to about 70% moisture (for a silo tube or bunker) or 65% (for an upright silo).
If you are planning to use soybeans for silage or hay, you will have to consider a few factors specific to soybean. Conditioning may be applied when the pod is full size (and the seed small) in order to reduce drying time (2-3 days) and increase tonnage. However, when the seeds are large, conditioning may crush the seeds or pop them out of the pods. If the plant reaches full-size and it is no longer feasible to condition them, the drying time greatly increases (unconditioned seeds take 4-6 days for curing). Most pure soybean silage is unpalatable which can be resolved by a fermentation process which involves adding corn grain or molasses or blending it with corn, sudangrass, or sorghum silage (best at a 50-50 ratio). Adding a commercial inoculants is also a must when ensiling soybean.
Forage Soybeans Variety Selection
Full-season soybean varieties are important because of the varied response to day length which greatly affects their flowering and maturation date. For hay production, harvest during a dry period is best to maintain quality. Forage soybean maturity groups range from maturity group 5 to maturity group 9. As a rule of thumb, the shorter the growing season the better the earlier maturity group forage soybeans perform for forage. Consideration should be given to if the forage crop is full season or double cropped and how will harvest coincide with good harvest weather. If the crop will be cut for silage, timing the planting to coincide with a dry period is not as critical as when cutting for hay. Consideration should be given to nematode resistance if nematodes are a known problem.
Weed Control for Forage Soybeans
There are many herbicides that are approved to control weeds in both conventional (non-GMO) and glyphosate tolerant forage soybeans. Be sure to check the label for any grazing or harvest restrictions. Choosing your planting fields wisely (those with low weed populations), applying pre-emergent herbicides, along with high population and narrow row planting may assist in controlling weeds in a soybean forage field.
Forage Soybeans Insect Pest Control
Another consideration when grazing or using soybean plants for hay or silage is the use of insecticides and fungicides. Check the label for any restriction of use if feeding to livestock that is used for milk production or meat. Products that may be considered for use include Carbaryl (Sevin 4F), Dimethoate (Dimethoate 4EC), Methomyl (Lannate LV), and Methyl parathion (Declare4EC).
Forage Soybeans for Beef Cattle, Dairy Cattle, and Horses
Soybean hay may cause bloat, so it’s crucial to blend soybean hay with other corn silage or grass hay. Start with a low percentage of soybean hay in the diet and increase by 10% after several weeks.
For dairy cattle, soybean forage can be used for 15-20% of their feed without affecting milk production.
Keep less than 50% of soybean seed in the feed, as dietary fat from seeds may lead to scouring, an upset digestive system, and possibly ammonia toxicity.
Horses must have only limited amounts of soybean forage. Transition horses slowly to soybean forage that is chopped or ensiled, free of mold, weeds, and dust, and test for nitrate accumulation before feeding.
Forage Soybeans for Sale
Specialty Seed is a leader in forage soybeans varieties for livestock. No one offers a larger selection of varieties. Browse our online inventory of the best livestock forage soybeans and gain all the advantages that this affordable forage alternative has to offer! If you have any questions or need more information, please contact us today - our experienced and knowledgeable staff is here to help!