Our objective with this review is to encourage more research about the use of soy protein in young calf diets by learning from the mistakes of the past and acknowledging the promising results found when modern techniques are applied to treat soybeans. Total or partial substitution of milk proteins with soy proteins can represent a substantial increase in the economic efficiency of calf diets as long as it does not affect calf performance. Unfortunately, the results found in the literature indicate that the inclusion of soy protein in diets of young calves usually diminishes growth and health outcomes. The interaction of the antinutritional factors and antigenic proteins in soybeans with the gastrointestinal tract triggers a physiological response with negative consequences for the digestive tract and immune system of the calf. In this article, we highlight the importance of a correct processing method of soybeans by reviewing some of the published research that has evaluated different soy-based ingredients in diets for young calves.
Conventional methods such as heating, ethanol extraction, and protein isolation can produce favorable results provided that the final product contains minimum or null amounts of antigenic and antinutritional factors. More recently, further processing methods such as microbial treatment of soybean meal reduces those antinutritional and antigenic factors, and can also increase the quality of soy protein by reducing the peptide size and by triggering the release of bioactive compounds. Experiments in which soy protein modified by this method was fed have increased in the scientific literature during the last decade due to the favorable results obtained in calves as well as in monogastric animals.