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.
Practical factors to make transitioning easier
- Have a grass paddock adjacent to the fodder beet paddock and run cows on and off the crop during the early stages of the transition period.
- Leave a headland of 6 m and plant in Italian ryegrass or a multi graze cereal crop e.g. oats for supplement making during the season and to provide feed and space during transitioning.
- Harvest the fodder beet to make a headland before starting to graze and use the harvested fodder beet fed with supplement through the silage wagon on a pasture paddock for the first few days of the transition process.
- Try to avoid mixing experienced and naïve animals together during transitioning. Naïve cows take time to familiarise themselves with the crop.
What not to do with fodder beet
- Offering a higher allocation and using a time-based approach to transition cows is not recommended: cows can consume 3-4 kg fodder beet per hour if the feed is available.
- Leaving animals who have not adapted in the mob and continuing to increase the allowance: the crop they don’t eat will be available for other cows to eat, increasing their allocation at a rate faster than recommended.
- Leaving residual crop in the previous days’ breaks for cows to eat later: good eaters will increase their intake too quickly.
- Moving the fence an extra metre or so on a cold, wet day to fill the cows up: some cows will increase their allocation too quickly.
Observations when transitioning
- Observing the herd regularly during the transition period (not just in the first 5-10 minutes of crop allocation) is important to ensure all cows are eating the crop at low allocations.
- Non-eaters may initially take an interest in the crop and even graze the leaves when the break is opened up or beets are fed on the grass paddock, but will soon move off onto pasture or supplement, leaving a higher allocation for the remaining animals.
- If you have only observed the cows for the first 5-10 minutes you will not notice this behaviour and will therefore continue to increase the allocation, now at a rate, to those eating the beets, higher than the recommended 1 kg DM increase every second day.
Ideal transition scenario
- The key to good results during transition is to ensure all cows have equal access to the crop, whether it is grazed or spread in the pasture paddock from the silage wagon and that they have sufficient time to try it. This means at least 1 m of face width on the crop. Allocations lower that this will result in younger and timid animals being bullied off the crop.
- Where possible it would be an advantage to transition naïve cows separately from those that have eaten fodder beet previously.