Feeding Fodder Beet
11 min read
Fodder beet is a feed option for cows that requires careful planning to avoid health issues such as acidosis. Before feeding it, you should measure your crop yield and test the leaf and bulb to determine its nutritional content. Transitioning cows to fodder beet involves adapting their gut microbes to its sugar-rich content. Too quick a transition can cause acidosis and even death. There are health and environmental risks tied to fodder beet, so good management is essential. For a successful transition, observe your herd regularly, ensure equal access for all cows to the feed, and separate experienced from inexperienced eaters. Practical tips include having adjacent grass paddocks and ensuring correct feed allocation.
Fodder beet requires careful planning and feed management to avoid acidosis and to ensure your cows receive sufficient nutrition.
Before feeding fodder beet, we recommend you measure your crop yield and test the leaf and bulb, as this can vary for each crop and will likely impact your management decisions. The key consideration when transitioning cows onto fodder beet is adapting rumen microbes to a change in feed type.
Rumen microbes must adapt to the fodder beet bulb's sugar-rich content and the targeted level of intake to prevent acidosis and other non-acidosis related disease, e.g. liver dysfunction, chronic inflammation, deferred ketosis.
This differs from brassica species where the main objective of transitioning is to adjust the rumen microbes to changes in feed quality and anti-nutritional compounds. If cows are offered too much fodder beet too quickly, it will result in rumen acidosis and, if severe enough, death.
There is emerging evidence of animal health and nutritional risks associated with the consumption of fodder beet, however many of these risks are not fully understood. Good management such as controlled transition practices and consideration of animal nutrient requirements minimizes the risks to animal performance.
There are strategies for managing the environmental challenges of cows grazing crops at high stocking rates, and good management should not be ignored. See cows on crop for strategies to minimise the impact of winter fodder beet on the environment.
The main areas of uncertainty relate to mineral supplementation requirements (especially where fodder beet is being fed in late autumn, winter, and spring), crude protein and amino acid intakes in high fodder beet diets, and longer-term system implications e.g. reproduction, milk composition, longevity.
◦ Understand fat deposition with fodder beet feeding ie. internal vs external fat and the rate of gain/loss
◦ Understand liver function in cows feed fodder beet and the impact on cow health and subsequent production
◦ Quantify the impact on reproductive performance including pregnancy losses and metritis
◦ Understand the impact of high-sugar diets on digestive processes
◦ Understand the carry-over impact of clinical and sub-clinical acidosis (duration and size)
◦ Develop feeding strategies to minimize acidosis
◦ Determine the metabolic and physiological changes when cows come off fodder beet and the need for transitioning off options
|Low protein intake||◦ Determine the impact of low protein intake on subsequent performance in our systems and develop feeding recommendations|
◦ Determine the type and amount of P supplementation required at all stages of fodder beet feeding
◦ Understand the impact of low P diets on bone reserves. The main areas of uncertainty relate to mineral supplementation requirements (especially where fodder beet is being fed in late autumn, winter, and spring), crude protein and amino acid intakes in high fodder beet diets, and longer-term system implications e.g. reproduction, milk composition, longevity and bone development in young stock
Is fodder beet the right crop for you? Take the quiz and find out!
Does fodder beet have a positive future as a feed for cows in New Zealand? What are some key things to consider when feeding beet through winter? And how do you put systems in place to maximise cow performance and animal health, while also minimising fodder beet’s risks? Here to answer those questions, and more, are DairyNZ scientist Dr Roshean Woods and veterinarian Dr Charlotte Westwood. Roshean and Charlotte have been involved in a three-year research project on fodder beet and they share the results with us.
Fodder beet offers many benefits as an alternative crop to brassicas, but it also presents risks and challenges. So, what can we learn from recent research about how to deal with those risks and challenges? How have farmers adapted their feeding practices over time? And do we have all the answers or is there more research required? In this episode DairyNZ senior scientist Dawn Dalley summarises recent research findings, and North Canterbury dairy farmer and veterinarian Trish McIntosh joins us to share her experiences of using fodder beet.
Factors to consider in summer/autumn when cows are in late lactation.
The relatively low protein, fibre, calcium, and phosphorus content of fodder beet creates an upper limit to how much can be fed during lactation before additional supplementation of these nutrients is required.
Lactating cows (upper limits): Grazed fodder beet 5-6kg DM. Lifted, bulb only 4-5kg DM
Transition levels: Start at 0.5-1kg DM/cow/day and increase no more than 1kg DM every second day. It generally takes at least 14 days to get to 5kg DM
Tip: When feeding lactating cows, don't feed more than 30% of the diet as fodder beet
The same principles as non-lactating cow transitioning apply during lactation to avoid rumen acidosis from cows consuming too much too soon. However, access to ample other feed during lactation, because beet is a smaller component of the diet compared with wintering, and the need to maintain milk production makes transitioning during lactation more challenging.
Fodder beet's high quality means the feed is digested quickly so the cows have the capacity to eat more.
Consideration to the amount of crop and supplement to feed should be given to the balance of nutrients that the diet will provide and the rate that the crop can be consumed.
A fibre source such as baleage, silage, hay or straw, is required to make the cows feel full for longer so they don’t wander the paddock looking for feed once all the crop is consumed.
Generally, if the diet contains at least 30% pasture silage/baleage the risks of nutrient imbalances will be reduced. Fodder beet systems have evolved to where beets are offered to appetite with reduced amounts of supplement.
|70% crop with pasture baleage or silage||Fodder beet to appetite with straw or silage|
◦ Easier to differentially feed mobs for BCS gain
◦ Higher crude protein intake
◦ Lower cost winter diet
◦ Reduced risk of acidosis if breakouts occur because cows are not hungry
◦ Higher cost
◦ More challenging to accurately allocate fodder beet each day in paddocks with uneven crop yields
◦ More risk of acidosis if total DMI is restricted and cows break out or the paddock yield is variable
◦ Potential for more over conditioned cows at the end of winter
◦ Lower mineral intake
Factors to consider
◦ Crop allocation in paddocks with variable yield
|Factors to consider
◦ Managing high body condition score cows
◦ Protein intake, especially with growing cattle.
The same principles apply for cow transitioning in the wintery to avoid rumen acidosis from cows consuming too much too soon.
Leaching losses measured following grazing of fodder beet crops on light stony soils at Ashley Dene, Canterbury, were 50-60 kg N/ha. Comparative losses from kale crops on the same soil type were 60-80 kg N/ha.
Lower losses are observed with fodder beet because of the low crude protein (nitrogen) in the crop and therefore less nitrogen is deposited in the urine patches.
This does not mean good management should be ignored. Implementing good environmental management practices on-farm is not only efficient – it helps to minimise risk to your business and reduce your environmental impact.