When some folks plant forage soybeans, they are using them to seed food plots to attract deer for hunting season. Forage soybeans are nutrient dense and rich in protein, which is why deer are drawn to them.
But these power-packed legumes are not just appealing to deer. Cattle, small ruminants and even bison can benefit from grazing on forage soybeans.

Sow and Grow
Prior to sowing forage soybeans, all fields to be planted should have a soil test. “Plants are nutrient transfer agents,” said Dr. Grant Woods, wildlife biologist and avid soybean plot researcher from Reed Springs, Mo. “Do a quality soil test annually.”
This will determine what is needed for the soybeans to grow successfully, and transmit their benefits to your livestock. The soil pH should be neutral, and greater than 6.0. Soybeans also require large amounts of phosphorous and potassium to reach optimum nutritional quality. Nitrogen is not typically needed to produce forage soybeans, since they are legumes and produce their own through a nitrogen fixing bacteria called Bradyrhizobium.
Forage soybeans should be sown onto a well-prepared planting surface; the soil should be smooth and free of large clods. Adding organic matter back to the soil where the soybeans are to be planted can aid in a well aerated seed bed. If a producer wishes to incorporate a no-till planting system into their soybeans program, there are other methods of breaking up the soil for planting. Joshua Jones, marketing director for the Hickory Ridge Hunting Ranch in Lamar, Okla., recommends planting cruciferous vegetables to aid in this process.
“Radishes and turnips can break up the soil so it’s not as hard and they add nutrients back,” Jones said. The beans can be planted from mid-April through June, to ensure that any danger of frost has passed, and so that the legumes can be ready for mid-summer grazing.
Forage soybeans should be allowed to reach their second reproductive stage (R2) before turning livestock out to graze them.

Graze and Hay
Growing forage soybeans gives the livestock producer flexibility for feeding options. Soybeans are hardy enough to withstand multiple periods of grazing, or being grazed and then cut for hay or silage.
Rebecca Atkinson, beef forage specialist at the Southern Illinois University stated in an article for Hay and Forage magazine that silage made from the legume is “very comparable to alfalfa silage” and goes on to state that “three or four grazings are possible in an intensive rotational grazing system if rainfall is sufficient and they’re grazed no shorter than 10 inches.” The protein content of forage soybeans makes for ideal weight gains in livestock. With a crude protein level of 15 to 20 percent, soybeans provide excellent finishing forage. As with any forage, soybeans regenerate best when they are grazed rotationally; two or three grazings in a season can be expected from one field of forage soybeans with proper management.
Post grazing, the protein-packed legume can be harvested for hay or silage. The process of making soybean silage is similar to alfalfa haylage – 60 to 65 percent moisture is the ideal range for soybeans. Forage soybeans can also be harvested for hay. Since forage soybeans is a high-protein and low-fiber feed source, it is ideal for the winter months. Legumes should be allowed to dry in the field, and should be harvested just before the seventh reproductive (R7) stage.
As with any hay, dried and baled forage soybeans should be stored out of the elements.


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