© Tim Scrivener

Tips to reduce reliance on soybeans in the diet of breast-fed beef

While soybeans can be grown in southern England, current varieties make them difficult to harvest in our humid and relatively cold climate and are only grown in a very limited area.

Most of the world’s supply comes from the Americas. In South America, soybeans are commonly grown on livestock pastures, forcing livestock farmers to new frontiers, and leading to the deforestation of native plants.

Therefore, it has negative environmental credentials.

Most soybeans are fed to livestock in the UK as a meal, after some of the oil has already been extracted, which is about 50% crude protein.

See also: Can Whole Dairy Systems Be Practical and Profitable?

About the author

Joe Henry veterinarian at Black sheep farm health. After qualification, he mostly became a sheep and meat veterinarian with an interest in disease prevention and health planning. He is an RCVS recognized Advanced Practitioner in sheep health and production and has trained veterinarians across the country in beef and sheep medicine.

Understanding Crude Protein

Raw protein is what they say: raw. As such, protein quality is variable.

Urea is about 300% crude protein, but of poor quality in terms of amino acids, so it is not useful for increasing prenatal colostrum immunoglobulin levels.

However, soybean meal is of excellent quality, unlike many alternatives.

Raising and fattening livestock can use low-quality proteins, such as grain distillers, corn gluten and beer syrup. Since these products were cheaper, soybeans were not used much in these production systems.

The importance of feed quality

Perhaps the best alternative to soybeans is to feed a high protein feed. Good quality pasture grass contains more than adequate protein for ruminants, thus no protein supplementation is needed.

But when it comes to preserved feed, the picture is not good.

Alfalfa or alfalfa silage can contain 18% crude protein and feed well, but grass forage and hay can vary according to the age and composition of lawns, along with cutting time.

Different types of stock have different protein requirements depending on the stage in their production cycle.

For example, a domestically maintained dry suckling cow can do well on moderate hay in mid-pregnancy.

But in the lead up to childbirth, you’ll need to increase your protein source to produce the antibiotic colostrum. One in three beef calves in one study had partial failure of antibody transfer.

This is traditionally where soy has been used as a quick fix – 1 kg/day of soybean meal during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy raises not only the active hydrolyzable protein, but also the lateral protein, which is important for immunoglobulin production.

Filling the protein gap – the options

Alternative feeds that are high in protein such as beans or peas but contain higher levels of starch can be used. This can lead to an increase in the weight of pregnant cows.

This is a concern as you should feed larger amounts of beans or peas than soybeans, as they contain about one-half to two-thirds of the protein level.

Rapeseed meal is perhaps the closest alternative to soybeans, as some forms have been heat-treated to allow for more flavoured protein.

Converting cows to high-protein feed before calving would have a similar effect without using any purchased nutritional supplements, and it should be the long-term goal for beef farms to be financially and environmentally sustainable.

Feed shortage

This winter, some producers may face a shortage of preserved fodder due to drought, and plan to feed more hay as a result.

Hay has a very low protein content – around 4.5% – so more protein will be needed to balance rations than when feeding hay or forage.

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