Whole soybean supplementation and cow age class: effects on intake, digestion, performance, and reproduction of beef cows.
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Two experiments were conducted to determine the effects of whole soybean supplementation on intake, digestion, and performance of beef cows of varying age. Treatments were arranged in a 2 x 3 factorial with 2 supplements and 3 age classes of cows (2-yr-old, 3-yr-old, and mature cows). Supplements (DM basis) included 1) 1.36 kg/d of whole raw soybeans, and 2) 1.56 kg/d of a soybean meal/hulls supplement. Supplements were formulated to provide similar amounts of protein and energy, but a greater fat content with the whole soybeans. Supplements were individually fed on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. During the treatment period, cows had free choice access to bermudagrass hay [Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.; 8.4% CP; 72% NDF; DM basis]. In Exp. 1, 166 spring-calving Angus and Angus x Hereford crossbred beef cows were individually fed supplements for an average of 80 d during mid to late gestation. During the first 50 d of supplementation, cows fed soybean meal/hulls gained more BW (10 kg; P < 0.001) and body condition (0.18 BCS units; P = 0.004) than cows fed whole soybeans. However, BW change (P = 0.87) and BCS change (P = 0.25) during the 296-d experiment were not different between supplements. Although calves from cows fed soybean meal/hulls were 2 kg heavier at birth, there was no difference in calf BW at weaning between supplements. Additionally, first service conception rate (68%; P = 0.24) and pregnancy rate (73%; P = 0.21) were not different between supplements. In Exp. 2, 24 cows from Exp. 1 were used to determine the effect of supplement composition on forage intake and digestion; cows remained on the same supplements, hay, and feeding schedule as Exp. 1. Crude fat digestibility was the only intake or digestibility measurement influenced by supplement composition; fat digestibility was higher for cows fed whole soybeans compared with cows fed the soybean meal/hulls supplement (58.1 vs. 48.8%). Hay intake and DMI averaged 1.63 and 1.92% of BW daily, respectively. Dry matter, NDF, and CP digestibility averaged 54.1, 55.1, and 63.2%, respectively. Compared with supplementation with soybean meal/ hulls, whole soybean supplementation during mid to late gestation resulted in reduced BW weight gain during supplementation, inconsistent effects on reproduction, no effect on calf weaning weight, and no effect on forage intake or digestion.