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Fodder beet an option for beef finishing diets

IT has always been said that fodder beet to cattle is like sweets to children, it will always be the first thing they go for and they will always want more of it.

Across the country fodder beet has not been as widely used in beef finishing diets compared to dairy diets, though enquires and interest has increased in recent years as beef producers become more aware of the benefits.

Jack Friar, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser explains more on the benefits and feeding regime.

What is fodder beet and what are the benefits?

Beet is a high energy, highly palatable feed source for cattle and provides an excellent source of sugar energy to help rumen function and drive dry matter intake.

Improving energy and dry matter intake will improve liveweight gain and condition in finishing cattle, particularly in young bulls where it can be more difficult to get the desired fat cover on finished carcases.

Depending on the variety grown a typical analysis of beet:

n Dry Matter (DM per cent) = 17 to 23 per cent;

n Starch content (per cent) = 2 per cent;

n Sugars (per cent) = 65 per cent;

n Energy (ME) = 12-13 MJ ME/kg DM;

n Crude protein (CP per cent) = 7 per cent;

n Fibre (NDF per cent) = 19.5 per cent.

Overall, farmers should look to feed a beet variety that has a higher dry matter content which will have higher energy levels in its fresh form and therefore deliver a better response from the animals. In terms of energy, on average 4.5kg fresh weight (FW) of beet is equivalent to 1kg of rolled barley.

Feeding rates for classes of stock

Beet can be fed to weanlings (250-350kg) at a limited rate of 5kg to 10kg FW/head/day, but they would normally be fed at the lower end of this scale. Due to its low protein content it is important when feeding beet that protein intake is not compromised. Younger cattle should also be offered, for example, roughly 0.75kg of soya bean meal to balance the protein.

A suitable mineral must also be used as beet is low in minerals, particularly phosphorus, and must be balanced accordingly to ensure performance is not compromised.

When fed to cattle over 500kg, beet should not exceed 25kg FW/head/day and, as for weanlings, a suitable protein supplementation and mineral should be provided, though at higher rates. Due to its low fibre content silage or straw is required when feeding high levels to ensure digestive upsets are not caused.

Introducing beet to the diet must be done slowly and stepped up. Start at 5kg/head/day and increase gradually by 3kg to 5kg every four days until the desired feeding level is reached. If feeding exceeds 14kg FW/head/day this should be split between two feeds to avoid rumen upsets, alternatively it can be used in a Total Mixed Ration (TMR).

Choosing the correct type of concentrate to supplement is important, aim for something with high levels of digestible fibre sources such as soya hulls and also avoid ingredients that contain high levels of sugars due to the levels already contained within beet.

Preparing beet for feeding and storage

All harvested beet should be washed thoroughly to remove soil contamination and chopped to avoid choking and also to help improve intakes. Feeding partly washed or unwashed beet over a prolonged time period may affect rumen function and can also affect the availability of minerals within the animal. Due to high nitrate levels after harvesting, allow a delay of at least four days from harvest before feeding.

Beet can be stored outdoors, but be wary of frost as frost damaged beet can cause digestive upsets. If kept outdoors some users cover beet with straw to act as an insulation layer for protection from frost. Beet can also be ensiled but firstly needs to be washed and chopped. An absorbent feed such as beet pulp, citrus pulp or soya hulls must be ensiled along with the beet to soak up the large volumes of effluent produced. A rule of thumb is to use a ratio of one tonne of absorbent for every five tonne of beet, this should retain most of the effluent.

In summary, fodder beet can be a cost effective and very useful addition to the diets of growing and finishing cattle when storage, cleaning and feeding are well managed.

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