Fodder beet has commonly been a grazed feed for wintering non-lactating cows in the cooler regions of New Zealand. It is now common for cows in Canterbury and Southland to have fodder beet in their diets for up to six months of the year and it is being fed to all classes of dairy livestock. Fodder beet is now grown in all major dairying regions.
Areas of fodder beet are now lifted and fed on feed pads or in the paddock using a silage wagon. As a crop with a long shelf life, either in the ground or harvested it is a flexible crop with lots of positive attributes but also several animal health risk factors.
Growing fodder beet on the platform
There are a number of factors to consider including cow numbers, yield and utilisation; establishment costs, the economics, fodder beet variety; and estimating fodder beet yield.
Fodder beet is effectively a 12-month crop if used for spring feed, i.e. the paddock is out of the grazing rotation for at least 12 months.
Wintering on grazed fodder beet on the milking platform potentially reduces the number of cows able to be milked by reducing the effective milking platform area, however it can be an option to save on winter grazing costs. Consider the economics for your system and goals.
Fodder beet can also be fed early to fill a late lactation feed gap; however, the loss of potential yield should be considered when harvesting fodder beet early. Consider establishment costs and yield compared to other summer feed options. If being used as an early lactation supplement, consideration should be given to the timing and logistics.
Yield and utilisation
Yields expected at 150 days under good management and good rainfall is approximately 15-18T DM/ha. Under good growing conditions (100kg DM/ha/day March -May) it is possible to have yields around 25 tonne in May-June in regions not limited by dry conditions.
For a fodder beet crop (costing $2500/ha) to break even, it would need to provide an extra 8t DM/ha (eaten) more than the pasture it was replacing. Yield differential of fodder beet versus pasture can result in a profitable option when all factors are considered.
High yields require high fertility, pH of 6.0-6.3, and attention to detail in paddock preparation, planting, weed and pest control. See growing fodder beet.
Estimating fodder beet crop yield
Estimating fodder beet yield is important to accurate allocation. Determine the row spacing of the crop by measuring across ten rows of crop from the centre of the first row; divide the distance by ten.
- Collect at least five yield samples that are representative of the paddock.
- From each yield sample, remove all the plants from at least 4 lineal m of a row (50cm row spacing’s) or 4.44 lineal m (45cm row spacing’s). This length provides 2m² of sample. (2 and 2.22 m lengths = 1m²). In crops that are very uneven it is recommended that the sampling is modified to so that the 4 lineal m comprises 2m of two adjacent rows
- Remove any excess soil from the bulbs by scraping with a blade, separate the leaf and bulb by cutting as close to the crown of the bulb as possible and measure the wet weight of leaf and bulb separately.
- Select approximately 300g of leaf from multiple plants and 3-5 bulbs for DM determination. Cut the bulbs in quarters length ways and place one quarter of each bulb into a plastic bag, seal and send with the leaf to the lab for DM determination. As DM% varies greatly between cultivars and paddocks estimating the DM% will result in under or overestimating the yield. The DM content and leaf to bulb ratio changes during winter therefore paddocks should be yielded just prior to feeding.
1. Calculate the DM yield for each sample and plant part, and average, fresh weight x DM%:
30kg bulb x 0.14 DM = 4.2 kg DM and 6 kg leaf x 0.09 DM = 0.54kg DM
2. Add the average bulb and leaf DM yield together:
4.2+ 0.54 = 4.74kg DM/2m²
3. Multiply by 5000 to determine the kg DM/ha yield
4.74kg DM/2m2 x 5000 = 23700kg DM/ha or 23.7t DM/ha
Typical fodder beet costs based on an industry-available costs and contractor costs for a quality seedbed, full spray and fertiliser programme.
Spray out + glyphosate herbicide
Sow (precision drill)
Weed sprays (3-6 sprays)*
Insecticides (2-3 sprays)*
Fertiliser (fodder beet base,urea, lime)*
Total fodder beet establishment costs
Considering the economics
Fodder beet offers a high quality and cost competitive alternative to PKE, silage and grain for late lactation feeding where supplements are required to meet feed budget deficits.
An increase in the use of higher dry matter varieties more suited to lifting provides an opportunity for the fodder beet to be grown off the milking platform and harvested and transported in as required.
The increased adoption of fodder beet grown on the milking platform for feeding during lactation and winter has been questioned from an economic perspective because of the long period the paddock is out of pasture production (12-14 months in many regions of the South Island). When purchased from off-farm, the cost of supplements can be compared directly with alternative supplements. However, if grown on the milking platform the cost must be calculated based on the gain in crop yield above the amount of pasture that would grow in the paddock over the same time, i.e. the net yield = crop yield – lost pasture.
Choosing a fodder beet variety
Select the variety based on desired end use.
- High DM% variety for lifting
- Intermediate DM% varieties can be grazed or lifted
- Low DM% varieties are only suitable for grazing
- Class of livestock and previous experience with fodder beet
- Low DM varieties are better suited to young stock and cows who have not experienced fodder beet
Fodder beet knowledge and animal health knowledge gaps
The information DairyNZ has on fodder beet is based on nutritional principles, research findings, and observations of on-farm practices. While good information exists on the importance of transitioning cows onto crops and how this can be achieved, there are knowledge gaps regarding some aspects of fodder beet feeding in our pasture-based systems.
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 feed 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 reservesThe main areas of uncertainty relate to mineral supplementation requirements (especially where fodder beet is being feed 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
Relevant to your system might be staff and labour time (including skill and experience), grazier relationships and grazing costs, soil type (including soil fertility and acidity), costs of transition management (including additional supplement) and animal health risks.
Nutrient losses may also be a factor to consider, especially the impact of growing crop on the milking platform on the farm nutrient budget, and environmental considerations.
Non-negotiables when feeding fodder beet
- Know paddock area and feeding face length
- Accurately measure the yield and determine the square metres required, especially in the area where cows will be transitioned
- Have dry matter tests done – DM% varies from paddock to paddock, farm to farm, month to month, year to year and between varieties
- Do not put hungry cows onto the crop
- Offer supplement at least three hours before fodder beet is offered
- Do not use a time-based approach on the crop when transitioning – cows can consume 3-4 kg DM/hour (i.e. 1 kg /15-20 minutes) when the break is first opened up
- Transition onto the crop over at least 14-21 days, increasing the allowance by no more than 1kg DM every second day for cows and 0.5kg DM every 2-3 days for rising 1 year olds
- Pay attention to detail when setting up break fences
- Have good power on the fences and always have a catch fence close to the break fence to minimise the impact of breakouts
- Don’t forget to readjust the breaks if cows are removed