No-bid soybeans in the northern plains are a result of the US China trade dispute. Additionally, a very wet harvest season has created challenges harvesting corn fields and caused seed quality concerns in soybeans. Lastly, drought conditions have caused hay prices to increase over the course of 2018. The net effect is many ranchers and dairy farmers are asking if it makes sense to use wet corn and no-bid soybeans as cattle feed. This article will explore considerations to best answer this question.
Soybeans as Cattle Feed
Producers in the northern plains ponder if their no-bid soybeans should be used as cattle feed. Drovers ran an article titled, “Adding Value to Soybeans Through Cattle” based on the thoughts of Warren Rusche of South Dakota State University Extension.
More specifically, the article considered the economic viability of feeding the whole bean to growing or finishing cattle. Since the widespread adoption of distillers grains as a source of supplemental protein for cattle diets, the conventional wisdom is definitively, ‘No’! However, these aren’t conventional times. The no-bid soybean situation, may be tipping the scale toward a different answer.
While, the whole bean is an excellent source of protein, the cost of alternative feeds must be considered. The key alternative for many cattle feeders are the prices of distillers and corn. At $2.75 corn and if DDGS prices per ton rise to $150/ton the breakeven price to use soybeans as feed would need to drop to $4.90/bu.
At most current prices, it remains economically more advantageous to use DDGS and corn for their cattle feed and either sell or store soybeans.
Exceptions To The Rule
Russ Quinn of DTN/PF also explored this topic in a piece titled, “Soybeans Could Be A Cattle Feed Option”. Quinn reached the same basic conclusion as the Drovers story. However, Quinn, also using Rusche as a source, highlighted two exception scenarios.
“About the only situation in which beans could be a viable, economic option would be if the beans were damaged, from like a freeze,” Rusche said.
The other scenario would be if there are no cash bids for beans and the producer has no storage option available.
In this case, feeding soybeans may be a strategy to move the crop and avoid cash outlays for purchased feeds, Rusche said.
Despite the current negative economics of substituting soybeans as a protein source, there can be other challenges as well. Beware that too much rumen-degradable protein can prevent it from being an efficient finishing ration. Also, many producers are not setup from a logistics and storage standpoint to use soybeans as feed.
Feed Flooded Corn Silage
An alternative feed option some producers may consider this fall is chopping flooded corn as silage. Jim Dickrell of Dairyherd penned an answer to this question, “Can You Chop and Feed Flooded Corn Silage?
He begins by noting that the very wet fall has producers wondering what to do with a flooded corn crop. The general rule of thump is to NOT chop, store, and then feed flooded crops.
Citing Cornell University agronomists Paul Cerosaletti and Dale Dewing the concern is the crop
can be coated with silt and are at higher risk of clostridial fermentation. That, it turn, can lead to potentially deadly botulism toxins.
Cerosaletti goes on to be quoted
“Such silage may also be at increased risk for mycotoxin contamination due to poor fermentation, and may also contain higher levels of coliform bacteria. Soil contaminated silage may also contain listeria bacteria.”
The piece goes on sharing management tips if you are planning to take the risk. However, it concludes by emphasizing that the
agronomists note that flooded corn harvested for dry grain is less risky.
Grazing a Corn Field
A final option to feeding cattle this season is grazing them in a lower yield corn field. Loretta Sorensen of DTN/PF explored this path through the eyes of South Dakota producer, Doug Sieck. Sorensen’s piece is titled, “Cost Saver: Standing Corn Grazer”.
In order for this to pencil out, corn prices need to be low. Additionally, the field’s yield should be considered as well. So when corn prices are low and the field’s yield is modest, grazing a standing crop can be an economical way to feed cows.
In Sorensen’s story, Sieck shares that he is able to feed his 300-head cow herd for $1 per head per day. That’s based on grazing corn that yields between 100 and 120 bushels per acre.
With hay bale prices increasing this year and corn prices relatively low, this feeding method may be more attractive this year than most. Sieck estimates his feed savings to be $218 per day for his 300 cows by letting them graze his corn fields.
Caution Grazing Standing Corn
When considering this feeding method be aware to carefully control how much of the field the cows have access to and how much corn they consume in a give day. Sorensen cites Bruce Anderson, agronomist and Extension forage specialist at the University of Nebraska,
“In grazing standing corn, it’s key to restrict the amount of corn allotted to the cattle at one time. You don’t want the cattle to trample a large amount of the corn, wasting it.”
Additionally, Sorensen emphasizes the
importance to restrict the amount of corn consumed those first few grazing days to prevent acidosis.
Rumen acidosis can occurs when a diet shift takes place from a high-fiber roughage (grass or hay) to low-fiber, high-carb grain, like corn.
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Weather and trade challenges have given rise to consider different feeding options for cattle. While typically feeding whole soybeans or wet silage or even grazing corn fields is less than ideal, this season may be different. Pursing any of these options may be the least bad route to go down when making the best of the current situation.