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Guest Opinions

Incorporating Cull Beans into Livestock Diets

Written by Steve Paisley, Extension Beef Specialist

In many parts of Wyoming, late maturing crops along with a timely freeze have created an abundance of freeze-damaged dry beans.  While the beans may not meet food-grade standards, when managed correctly they can be used as an excellent diet ingredient and supplement for beef cattle diets.  

Dry edible beans, whether culls, splits, discolored or light weight, have been used in livestock feeds for many years.  Many commercial feed mills include a percentage, between four and eight percent, of cull beans in many range cube formulations to serve as a binding agent, helping to hold the pellet together during handling and feeding.  

Cull beans are relatively high in protein, providing between 22 and 25 percent protein, as well as energy, supplying 74 to 80 percent Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN). They may be incorporated successfully in managed amounts into both grazing supplements and growing calf diets.  

While relatively high in protein, dry edible beans also contain anti-nutritional factors, including enzyme inhibitors, phytic acid, saponins and lectins that make dry beans an undesirable feed for swine and horses.  Cattle consuming high levels of dry beans may show reduced intake and scouring.  Palatability is also a challenge when raw, unprocessed beans are fed to livestock.  Because of the anti-nutritional factors and palatability challenges, general recommendations are to limit or restrict the amount of dry beans in growing calf diets to no more than 10 to 15 percent of the overall ration.  

Roasting the beans has been shown to dramatically reduce the anti-nutritional effects, as well as improve palatability but is rarely cost effective.

Profitability in the beef cattle industry often hinges on sourcing low-cost feed ingredients and reducing overall cost of gain.  When purchased economically, cull beans, whether they are dry edible beans and peas in the northern states or damaged or immature soybeans in the central and southern plains, all provide an opportunity reduce overall ration costs while utilizing a feed source relatively high in protein and energy.  

Over the years, several studies have investigated the efficacy of including cull dry edible beans in cattle diets.  Recent Nebraska studies (Rush et al., 1998) evaluated incorporating cull dry edible beans in growing calf diets at levels of five and 10 percent in year one and 7.5 and 15 percent in year two.  Overall rations were typical of western Nebraska and southeast Wyoming, consisting predominantly of corn silage, alfalfa hay and cracked corn.  These two studies suggest that dry beans can be safely fed up to 15 percent of the diet, however palatability issues created a slight reduction in overall diet intake at levels of 10 and 15 percent of the diet.  Approximate daily amounts of beans were two and three pounds per head per day in the 10 and 15 percent bean diets, respectively.  

Earlier studies in Europe (Williams, 1982) where beans were fed in complete pelleted feeds at levels approaching 25 percent of the diet resulted in reduced intakes and scouring problems.  

Based on these results, as well as feeding studies with raw soybeans, general recommendations are to not exceed 15 percent of the ration or three pounds per day of beans.

While cull beans have been used in small amounts for range cake formulations for many years, a study in Colorado (Patterson et al., 1999) looked at feeding unprocessed cull beans as a range supplement to cattle grazing winter dormant pastures.  Unprocessed cull beans were compared to canola meal, as well as sunflower meal, as a high protein winter supplement.  Beans were fed at approximately 3.6 pounds per head every other day during late fall and early winter, compared to similar amounts of sunflower meal and canola meal. While performance was similar across the different protein supplements, cattle began to decrease intake of the unprocessed cull beans because of poor palatability.  The researchers commented that grinding or cracking the beans and mixing with sunflower meal caused the cattle to resume eating supplements.

For Wyoming producers wanting to utilize frozen or lightweight beans, consider coarsely grinding the beans and consider incorporating them in growing diets.  Studies suggest that cull beans may be incorporated up to 10 percent without impacting performance or intake.  Feeding levels approaching 15 percent may begin to reduce feed intake and performance. Cull beans may also be fed as a supplement to grazing cattle, but palatability problems suggest that beans need to be ground and blended with more palatable feeds such as dried distiller’s grains, sunflower meal or soybean meal.  While low levels of cull beans are often included in range cubes as a binder, higher levels may not be feasible.  

For additional information, contact your local UW Extension office or UW Extension Specialists. Steve Paisley can be reached at 307-837-2000 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sources use in this article are cited below. 

Patterson, H.H., J.C. Whittier, L.R. Rittenhouse and D.N. Schutz. 1999. Performance of beef cows receiving cull beans, sunflower meal, and canola meal as protein supplements while grazing native winter range in Eastern Colorado.  J. Anim. Sci. 77:750-755.

Rush, I.G., B. Weichenthal and B. Van Pelt., 1998. Cull dry edible beans in growing calf rations. Nebr. Beef Report MP 69-A pp.43-45.

Williams, P.E.V., A. J. Pusztai, A. MacDearmid, and G.M. Innes. 1984. The use of kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) as protein supplements in diets for young, rapidly growing beef steers. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol. 12:1-10.

Willman, J.P., G.R. Johnson, and W.F. Brannari., 1961.  Cull beans for fattening lambs.  Bulletin #959, p.3.  Cornell Univ. Agric. Exp. Sta., Ithaca, NY.