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July 27, 2012
Salvaging Soybeans as Hay or Silage
Rain-fed soybeans may still have an opportunity to produce yield in areas that receive sufficient and timely rains. If thatís not the case for your dryland soybeans, you may want to salvage them as hay or silage.
When made correctly, soybean hay and silage can have feeding values similar to those for alfalfa.
Harvest soybean forage when leaves start to turn yellow, just before they drop off. Itís especially important to harvest before a freeze to prevent rapid leaf loss.
Making Hay. Soybean hay is challenging to make. The stems are quite woody and dry slowly. Be sure to condition or crimp the hay to hasten stem dry down. In contrast to the stems, soybean leaves dry quickly and then become crumbly. Avoid raking the fragile leaves, which can contribute to yield loss and a much lower feed value. If you must rake to merge windrows for baling, do it within one day of cutting. Do not rake to hasten drying as leaf loss will be severe.
Making Silage. Making good soy silage is less risky if you have silage equipment and do it right. I prefer mixing chopped soybeans with corn or sorghum as they are being ensiled, but thatís not always possible. For straight soy silage:
Get a good, clean chop. Uniformly add a silage inoculant designed for legumes like alfalfa. Add about one bushel of cracked corn or 50 pounds of molasses to each ton of wet silage to aid fermentation. Pack soy silage especially well.
Obviously, you would rather harvest a good bean crop than make hay or silage from it, but when drought and heat prevent a good bean crop, hay or silage may be a good alternative.
Extension Forage Specialist