Sugar beet is nutritious, palatable and energy rich. However it is also lacking in protein, phosphorous and calcium and is potentially dangerous because of its very high sugar level.

This is according to the latest advice from Teagasc.

“Proper diet formulation and feeding management are essential when feeding beet to ensure good annual performance and minimise digestive upsets or even fatalities,” stressed Teagasc’s Oliver McGrath.

He outlined a nutrition plan:

                           Sugar Beet             Fodder Beet                       Barley                 Good Silage

(washed)               (washed)                                                         (70 DMD)

Dry matter   %        22 – 24                 15 – 22                                87                         20 – 25

Crude Protein %           4.5                    7.0                                  11.5                              14

Sugar/starch   %         75                      65                                     56                              3.0

In terms of feeding sugar beet, the latest Teagasc advice is as follows:

Introduce gradually – The sugar rich nature of this feed makes it very likely to cause digestive upset (acidosis) when introduced too quickly.  Start with 5 kgs/head/day of chopped beet.  Make sure that the majority of animals are eating before increasing levels further, increase by 5 kgs. Every 3 to 4 days until the desired level is reached.

Do not overfeed – 25 kgs. of sugar beet is equivalent to almost 6.5kgs of barley.  A further 1 kg. or more of concentrate will be needed to balance for protein, equivalent to a total concentrate feeding level of 7.5kgs or more.  For cattle of 500-600 kgs. It is generally preferable not to exceed this level.  For weanlings (250 – 350 kgs) about 15kgs of washed, chopped beet is a safe level after proper introduction.

In terms of feeding management, McGrath outlined that sugar beet is higher in energy than most concentrate feeds and should be treated as a “wet concentrate”.

“All animals should have access simultaneously therefore feeding space should be 600 mm (2 feet) for finishing cattle and 500 mm for weanlings.  When feeding levels exceed 14 kgs. (finishing cattle) or 10 kgs (weanlings) twice – daily feeding is essential to prevent acidosis and to ensure efficient digestion of all feed.”

Wash and chop is also key, he said.

“Unwashed beet can carry up to 16 and 18 per cent clay as tare. Most of this must be removed by some means. Mechanical cleaning is the minimum requirement but for high feeding levels and long feeding periods washing will be necessary.”

In terms of fresh beet, Teagasc advices to freshly harvested sugar beet contain high levels of nitrate that can cause poisoning. It said this risk passes after a delay of four to five days following harvesting.

With frost, frosted beet can cause digestive upsets, according to Teagasc’s McGrath.

“With sugar beet as roughage replacement, sugar beet can replace scarce hay or silage, in the same way in which any dry concentrate can be used.  All ruminants need some long fibre in their diet for normal digestive function, at least 1kg of dry matter for weanlings and 2 kgs for finishing cattle.”

Sugar beet must be balanced for protein and minerals, he added.

“Soya bean meal, rape seed meal, cotton seed meal and distillers grains are all suitable protein sources. Feed 100 g of high calcium – high phosphorous (10%P) mineral per day,” McGrath recommends.