One day this winter, Craig George  fed grass hay to his 60 beef cows, then put two bales of soybean hay a short distance away.

“I went back about half an hour later just to look, and about 75% of those cows had left the grass hay and went to the beans,” says George, of Thorp, WA.

High palatability and quality – the hay scored 174 for RFV – are the best results George has to report from his first try at growing soybeans for hay. He planted 10 acres of them last spring as a rotation crop between timothy plantings. Besides providing good feed for his cows, he figured the legume would break disease cycles better than the oats he usually uses and leave nitrogen in the soil for the next timothy crop.

He plowed the heavy clay soil the previous fall, then did light tillage before drilling 80 lbs/acre of soybean seed on May 9. A rotary ditcher created furrows for his rill irrigation system, but when he watered to bring the beans up, some seeds floated off the field.

He applied 90 lbs/acre of nitrogen, but didn’t inoculate the seed, and the crop didn’t grow as well as he thought it should. It was mowed Aug. 20, raked three days later and baled seven days after cutting.

The soybeans, which were thigh-high with small pods when harvested, yielded 2 tons of hay per acre.

This year he’ll plant them on a 14-acre field plowed last fall, but will inoculate the seed and pull a roller behind the drill to hold the seed in place. He also plans to no-till soybeans into a 2-acre field corner where he took out timothy with a herbicide. Neither field will be fertilized.

It cost George $140/acre to plant soybeans last year, and he needs higher yields and lower costs to make them pay. The crop will be worthwhile if it yields between 3 and 4 tons of hay per acre, especially if the soil doesn’t have to be tilled, he figures.

“But I don’t want to get 6 or 7 tons to the acre, because then it would be too hard to get it dry,” says George.