The first of January 2013 and the price per ton of soybean meal at Emporia, Kansas is $4.11 or $20.55/cwt. Supplemental protein expense for livestock (because of high oil seed meal prices) is a major cost for producers. Supplemental protein is a necessary evil for cattle producers as our dormant warm season grass and in many cases our hay fed in winter is low in protein. Protein, especially with lactating cows, is generally our first limiting factor, as we try to meet a cows winter nutritional needs.

Protein expense can be reduced by optimizing the use of fescue, small grain, or annual ryegrass pastures. Another approach is to produce legume hays such as alfalfa or bean hay.

Bean hay can be produced by planting cowpeas, traditional soybeans, or forage soybeans. Tonnage produced will vary with bean variety and of course weather. Cowpeas are expected to produce 1.5 to 2 ton of dry matter/acre, long season soybeans 2 – 3 ton/acre and forage soybeans 3 ton or more /acre. Crude protein content of bean hay is expected to range from 16 to 20% crude protein. As a rule of thumb, the best time to harvest is when beans are at 90% pod fill.

Plant beans when soil temperature at a 2 inch depth is a consistent 65 degrees F. From the day of planting, expect plants to be ready to harvest in 90 to 120 days. Cowpeas will be expected to be ready for harvest earlier than traditional soybeans.

If beans have enough moisture to establish, they are hard to drought out. Beans can survive and recover from dry season dry spells. In addition, plants can send taproots nearly eight feet in eight weeks to reach moisture.

Below is a simple cost budget for beans

Land charge/acre $20.00
50 lb seed/acre $44.00
Tillage cost/acre $40.00
P & K fertility/acre $21.00
Baling charge/acre $80.00
Total/acre $205.00 = $51.25/1000# bale

If you are supplementing a cow with 4 pounds of 38% crude protein cube/day the cow daily cost for protein supplement will be .80 per day. About ten pounds of 16% crude protein bean hay will replace the four pounds of 38% cube for a cost of .51 cents per day. For a 30 day period, this is a savings of $8.70 per cow.