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Alternative energy sources available in sugarbeet pulp shortage

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Feb. 29, 2020

“2019 was a year of challenging weather and some of the challenging weather conditions impacted sugarbeet production,” states Aaron Berger University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension beef specialist, during the Feb. 17 episode of UNL’s Beefwatch podcast. “This resulted in less sugarbeets being harvested and less sugarbeet pulp being produced.”

            During the podcast, Berger was joined by Karla Wilke, range management cow/calf specialist at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

            “Sugarbeet pulp is pretty popular as an energy source in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska, especially in gestating cow rations because the byproduct is high in highly-digestible fiber,” Wilke says. 

            In fact, Wilke notes the total digestible nutrient (TDN) of beet pulp is 85 to 90 percent with a crude protein value of 10 percent. 

            “It’s really a nice energy source to give cattle in the winter when they are on low-quality forage diets to begin with,” she says.

Substituting corn in the diet

            Despite the popularity of beet pulp as an energy source for cattle, many producers have or will have issues finding it following the shortage of sugarbeets, due to last year’s tough weather conditions.

            “I have had a lot of producers call and ask what they should do because they are not going to be able to get their beet pulp this year,” Wilke says. “There are some alternatives that can be substituted in beef cattle diets if beet pulp isn’t available.”

            Wilke notes due to adverse weather conditions, producers will see more corn silage than usual.

            “Some of this corn was probably planted with the purpose of putting it up as corn silage and some of it may have been planted for grain production. However, with the irrigation tunnel collapse, canal breach and hail storms, it may have ended up as corn silage,” she explains. 

            Wilke says well-preserved, high-quality corn silage has 65 to 70 percent TDN and nine percent crude protein making it a suitable component of a diet to add supplemental energy. However, she also notes corn silage is not a one-to-one replacement for beet pulp. 

            “Part of this is because the moisture content is less in silage than in beet pulp, so we have to account for that,” Wilke states. “The energy content isn’t really the same either. Therefore, corn silage can’t be used to replace beet pulp in the diet, but it can be used to replace some hay and some beet pulp to come up with a similar diet people are used to feeding their cows.” 

            Wilke mentions beet pulp is a fiber-based energy source, whereas corn silage is more starch-based. 

            “If we are adding more starch to our fiber-based diet, we need to add more protein to the diet as well so the bacteria in the rumen have more nitrogen available to utilize that energy,” she says. “Therefore, I think it is important we take samples of our feed and send it to a commercial laboratory for an evaluation before balancing rations.” 

Utilizing damaged sugarbeets

            Wilke notes some of the sugarbeets in the area damaged by freeze are becoming available as a possible feed source.

            “These beets can be a good source of energy as they are a little less than 90 percent TDN,” she says. 

            Wilke explains producers can preserve these sugarbeets by chopping them up and mixing them with straw or other poor-quality hay. This allows the sugars to soak into the forage and producers can feed the combination to their cattle.

            “The thing about sugarbeets, compared to sugarbeet pulp, is the crude protein content is only about four percent, which means we would have to add some protein,” she says. “The other thing to be wary of is these beets have been moved around a few times, chopped up and moved around some more, so all of the sticky sugar will pick up dirt and we will see a high ash content.” 

            To combat this from becoming a dietary issue, Wilke suggests limiting cattles’ sugarbeet intake to no more than 20 percent. 

            “Using up these sugarbeets is an opportunity to maximize on the loss, but we need to get those sugars preserved as quickly as we can and there are a few things to be careful of,” Wilke says.             Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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