High oleic soybeans: The feed of the future?

Posted on
May 21, 2024
Tyler DeGroot    tyler_degroot@rockriverlab.com

By: John Goeser, PhD, PAS

High oleic soybeans have been a hot topic as of late, and understandably, the need to control input prices while improving feed efficiency and maintaining components has been top of mind in 2024’s dairy economic state. Historically, soybeans have been a concern from a few nutrition standpoints - namely that the fat content of traditional soybeans can depress butterfat production. 

Dairies around the US are exceedingly interested in high oleic beans as they appear to be metabolized differently. Excitement is building following Dr. Adam Lock of Michigan State University showcasing no crash in production after incorporating high oleic soybeans into the ration. Though, nutritional quality with these beans interacts with physical form. Therein lies the caveat to all of the hype around this opportunistic golden child ingredient: processing. Roasting or grinding appears to be necessary to capture the full nutritional value. Roasting efficacy is a long-standing question mark with soybeans. And from a nutritionist standpoint, beans are already inconsistent in nutritional quality due to growing conditions, variety, etc. 

Dairies currently utilizing this potential breakthrough ingredient are either working with a third party or roasting the beans themselves. Hence, there is renewed interest in evaluating roasting efficacy. This presents a few key challenges. First off, roasting changes the configuration of the protein, creating rumen bypass protein (RUP). Rock River Laboratory is utilizing valid, time-tested, reliable approaches for estimating RUP. This includes our rumen in situ protocol that I recommend taking advantage of, where samples are incubated within the rumens of dairy cattle.

Second, there is a delicate processing balance. The beans should be processed enough to achieve 40 to 50 percent rumen bypass protein, but excessive roasting can burn the beans so much that they bypass the intestines and cow entirely. Because of this delicate balance, some clients I’ve spoken with are also looking at intestinal digestibility to confirm the beans are roasted properly and not cooked. Rock River Laboratory can check the RUP intestinal digestibility to understand if the beans have been overroasted. 

The last consideration for producers is logistics. Where do we acquire the beans? Can we grow them? And what acreage, if any, do we convert into these beans? Which variety makes sense for our operation? High Oleic soybeans may signal a sizable shift in farming. The requirements around sourcing them from a grower, dealing with processing, delivery, and potentially roasting on-site should also be considered in the decision, along with proper storage - which shouldn’t be on the ground. These are all good discussion points for the farm team. 

From the nutritionist level, two things should be kept in mind as high oleic soybeans are folded into the ration. First, figure out the protein and fat content and test these beans along with a normal testing program. It’s plain and simple the first step toward accounting for them correctly. 

And finally, consider our laboratory techniques. Particularly, interactions with particle size should be taken into consideration as lab results are interpreted. Much like a bar of soap versus flaked soap and how quickly it dissolves, some beans may look great for rumen bypass protein, but partly due to the fact that they weren’t ground or rolled well enough. 

High oleic soybeans may be a feed of the future, grasped now for the early adopters. As with any new opportunity, there needs to be careful assessment and scrutiny, along with research coupled to on-farm experience to fully grasp how well or difficult it will be to incorporate this new option. But in a year when belts are tight and income over feed costs is a priority, it’s worth the additional legwork to decide if this can be a long-standing shift to your overall feeding programs. 

Posted in:
Animal Nutrition