When warm weather fades to cold, Georgia's green pastures will also fade, and cattlemen must prepare to feed their herds during the winter. University of Georgia experts say they should consider feeding their cattle soybean hulls.
Dan Brown, an Extension Service animal scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said soybean hulls provide cattle higher protein than corn and can cost up to 75 percent less.
Brown put soybean hulls to the test on a research herd of 100 stocker cattle at the UGA Mo untain Branch Station in Blairsville, Ga.
Stocker cattle are cattle that farmers buy as calves, grow to heavier weights and then sell to feedlots. "Most of Georgia's cattle wind up on feed yards in the high plains areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska," Brown said. "There they are grown to slaughter weight."
Beef cattle weigh 1,100 to 1,200 pounds and are 15 to 18 months old at slaughter.
For the past three years, the cattle market in Georgia has been down. But this year's season looks much better. "The market is up substantially over last year," Brown said. "We expect the trend to hold over the next year."
To make a profit, "cattlemen make every effort to keep input costs down," he said. "Feed is the major cost item in beef production."
Beef cattle diets are normally based on corn. But in Brown's research, steers fed soybean-hull diet gained an average of 2.58 pounds per day, while cattle fed a shelled-corn diet gained 2.49 pounds per day.
Cattlemen are starting to discover the alternative feed source. "A lot of beef producers are using soybean hulls in lieu of shelled or cracked corn because it's cheaper," Brown said. "It's a feed source all cattlemen can use, from commercial cow-calf producers to stocker producers."
Many dairies now use soybean hulls in rations "as a very digestible fiber source," said Lane Ely, a dairy scientist with the UGA Extension Service. "They're a valuable component but can only be fed to lactating dairy cows in limited amounts. Cattle still need long-stem forage and roughage in their diets."
Farmers can buy soybean hulls at any large farm dealership or brokerage. However, Brown tells them to call ahead.
"Soybean hulls are produced here in Georgia and are by-products of the soybean oil industry," he said. "But many farm dealers don't keep them on hand due to low demand. They can be easily ordered and readily available if requested."
On the downside, soybean hulls are a medium-energy-source food. "Soybean hulls can't be used as a pound-per-pound replacement for corn or forages," Ely said. "The cattle's total ration still has to be balanced for all nutrients."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)