ON THE PULSE: Lentils, field peas in demand by livestock producers | TSLN.com

ON THE PULSE: Lentils, field peas in demand by livestock producers

Nicole Michaels
for Tri-State Livestock News

A princess with a pea under her mattress? No, not in the Northern Plains. But a heifer calf with field peas in her feed bunk? You may be on to something.

North Dakota and Montana lead the nation in pulse production. We're talking peas, lentils, and chickpeas primarily.

These protein powerhouses derived from legumes and sourced from markets for human consumption are in increasing demand by livestock producers.

Sustainable, palatable, and economical, the little pulse is selling itself in a big way over the region.

Pulses are highly useful in several aspects of beef cattle operations. Sheep producers claim they rival corn in energy when fattening lambs, and swine folk substitute pulses for soymeal when finishing. Even the poultry industry is finding a place for pulses.

Consider the lowly pea. Pisum sativum L. is an annual cool season legume grown all over the globe on 25 million acres.

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To make it to your dinner table, it has to be one very fine pea. What doesn't make the cut is still highly digestible and palatable to livestock, and because of its success as a crop across the state, it's easily sourced by local livestock producers.

The residue, or what's left after seed is cleaned for other markets, may be especially economical.

"The livestock producers who have tried pulses in their rations love it," says Jerry Schillinger of Circle Mont., one of the first farmers in the region to start growing pulses. "They say the livestock respond to it very well."

Considered to be very palatable stuff to all classes of beef cattle, the protein dense field pea is well-suited to creep feeds and receiving rations, when those qualities are especially important.

The nutrient density of the pea lowers transportation and storage costs, as fewer pounds of feed are required for the same nutritional punch.

It may be fed in place of range cake to wintering cows, and as the sole protein source to growing heifers.

And that's just peas and cattle.

Because pulses grow so well in the climate and perform so well on the hoof, projections are for expansion of pulse acres in North Dakota and surrounding states.

Pulses even work well as a sustainable crop. They increase production as a rotating crop with the potential for a nitrogen credit, lowering the need for fertilizer. They are locally available, which means less fuel spent in transport. And they reduce storage space because of their nutrient density.

Beau Anderson of the Northern Pulse Growers Association says pulse growers can be found about anywhere in the region.

"Pulses are being grown from Minot all the way down to the Golden Triangle in Montana of Great Falls, Havre, and Conrad," Anderson says.

Some pulses may be grown as forage crops, where they are typically mixed with cereal grains to enhance protein, digestibility, and energy content. They may then be harvested as hay or silage, or even browsed or grazed.

Pulses intended for the feed market are handled like most other commodities. Storage at the farm or in nearby grain elevators positions pulses to be moved by truck and rail.

An economic comparison of pulses with other feeds by producers must consider crude protein and energy content as well as palatability. But in general, pulses compare favorably with other grains, and complement other grains when served as part of a ration.

North Dakota farmer and rancher Ryan Brooks, past president of the pulse association, raises peas, lentils, and chickpeas for the food market, and feeds a few beef cows for his dinner table.

"We know if you put pulses in the diet you can improve the taste and texture of the beef, and tenderness," Brooks says.

A basic understanding of nutrition is needed to fine tune practical and economical diets. Ration balancing software is available, and nutritionists may be consulted.

Schillinger, who raises field peas, lentils and chickpeas as part of a diversified farm, said pulse growers aren't hard to locate.

"The easiest way is to contact your state certified seed group for a directory. Ask for the residue, created after a clean," Schillinger says.

As for growing pulses for your own animals, producers will find many benefits, says Anderson. "When properly inoculated, a pulse crop will give you a nitrogen credit for the next year."

Fields that have been left fallow are yielding $200 an acre this year when planted in pulse crops, Anderson says. "That's not a bad return on what you were going to leave standing."

In Harrold, S.D., a new processing plant is under construction this fall, and scheduled to open next year. F