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Sugarbeets may be economical, nutritious option for cattle according to study

Written by Emilee Gibb

According to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Range Management Cow/Calf Specialist Karla Jenkins, using chopped sugarbeets may be an economical option for cattle producers that have access to waste beets.

Difference

“Sugarbeet pulp is a highly digestible fibrous byproduct that’s available October to February as the sugar is being taken out of the sugarbeets and processed for human consumption,” explained Jenkins.

Alternatively, feeding sugarbeets, as Jenkins has studied, involved whole beets that are unacceptable for human consumption and are then available for cattle.

There are several nutritional differences between sugarbeet pulp and whole beets, she continued.

“The biggest nutritional difference is that the crude protein and neutral detergent fiber is much lower on the whole sugarbeet, but the in vitro dry matter disappearance, which is similar to total digestible nutrients (TDN), is a about 86 percent and is a little higher than the beet pulp,” said Jenkins.

Study

In the study, the shredded beets were mixed with wet distiller’s grains and wheat straw.

“The diets that we wanted to compare for those cows was a diet that either contained 20 percent whole sugarbeets or 20 percent corn, 60 percent straw and 20 percent wet distiller’s grains,” said Jenkins.

The diets varied from 9.7 to 10.7 percent crude protein, but the amount of dry matter fed was adjusted so each group was fed the same amount of TDN.

Rations were fed to study groups in a dry lot setting in controlled amounts.

During the second year of the study, Jenkins explained that a slightly different strategy was used for preparing the beet ration.

“The second year of the study, we used fresh beets that were not beginning to rot,” she continued. “We only mixed it with the straw and then added the distiller’s grains later when we fed the diet.”

Producers

“The challenge for producers is that most of them do not want to mix the complete diet as we did in the research trial,” commented Jenkins, noting that the question then becomes how much straw must be mixed in to store the beets.

Jenkins advised that several management strategies are critical for successfully storing the sugarbeets.

“Removing air pockets is important, so we get some fermentation but not spoilage. Keeping the dry matter content of the pile between 35 and 50 percent is important, as well,” she said.

A producer that elected to experiment on his own reported that he mixed 20,000 pounds of straw and 52 tons of rotting beets on an as-is basis.

“That mixture resulted in a feed that was about 67 percent TDN but only 4.1 percent crude protein. It was 43 percent dry matter,” continued Jenkins.

While the diet would not be good to feed without a protein supplement, Jenkins noted that it would be a good diet from a storage standpoint.

Results

The research group used over the two years of the study included mature pregnant cows.

“These cows were due to calve in July, so this trial ran from April to June, as we wanted to catch that last part of gestation before they calved,” explained Jenkins.

She noted that there was no significant difference between initial body weight or body condition score for either the sugarbeet group or the corn group when the trial was started.

“There were no treatment differences in June when we weighed them off of the trial, but we can see that both the sugarbeet and corn groups gained a little condition score on these diets,” said Jenkins.

Cautions

Jenkins noted that producers should take several cautions into consideration when feeding sugarbeets.

“Number one, the pieces need to be small enough to prevent choking,” she said. “The good news is that the rotting beets tend to be softer than the fresh beets and probably pose less of a hazard for choking.”

Sugarbeets that have been handled several times on soil have accumulated ash content, continued Jenkins.

“If the beets themselves are included at a very high level in the diet, it could cause some problems for the cattle,” commented Jenkins, “but if the dry matter of just the beets in the diet is between 20 and 30 percent of that final diet dry matter, they should be able to avoid any problems that they might have with ash contamination.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..