Early chill may impact sugarbeet quality

Courtesy/The Business Farmer Sugarbeets are chopped into smaller pieces so they can be fed to cattle, in this recent demonstration at the UNL Panhandle Research Feedlot north of Scottsbluff.

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. – Temperatures dropping below 15 degrees in early October may have put some sugarbeets in Western Nebraska at risk of decaying at the crown. When decay begins in the beet before it can be processed, it makes the beet unacceptable for sugar production for human consumption.

Sugarbeets not fit for human consumption can be an economical source of feed for beef cattle. But producers should be aware of how sugarbeet nutrient content compares to other common feeding rations such as corn and beet pulp, and also how the rotting process affects the beets’ nutrient quality.

In a University of Nebraska research trial, gestating cows performed similarly when their rations were changed, using 20 percent sugarbeets (dry matter basis) to replace 20 percent corn. When growing calves were fed 44 percent sugarbeets (dry matter basis) they were more efficient than calves receiving corn. In a finishing diet however, when sugarbeets replaced corn up to 15 percent, cattle had reduced performance compared to no sugar beets in the ration.

When sugarbeets begin to rot, sugars are lost rapidly. Analyzed for water-soluble carbohydrates, rotting sugarbeets were found to contain only 26.9 percent, compared to 73 percent in fresh chopped beets. Fat-soluble carbohydrates were 22.7 percent in rotting sugarbeets compared to 69.5 percent in fresh chopped beets.

Therefore, mixing chopped rotting sugarbeets with straw or poor-quality hay as soon as possible will help reduce sugar loss. An effective method is mixing 10 percent poor-quality roughage and 90 percent sugarbeets (on an as-is or actual pounds basis) and packing in a bunker or ag bag.

The nutrient quality of chopped sugarbeets is different from that of sugarbeet pulp, the by-product of sugar production. Sugarbeet pulp has a crude protein content of 10 percent, while sugar beets will likely be 4.5 percent. The neutral detergent fiber content of sugarbeet pulp is about 45 percent, compared to only 15 percent in sugarbeets, making the beet a more comparable substitute for corn in the diet than a fiber source.

A protein source such as distillers grains or alfalfa would need to be included in a diet with a mixture of poor quality hay or residue and rotting sugarbeets. The amount of sugar left in the rotting sugarbeet will vary, but assuming they have lost 10 percent of their original sugar, and mixed with residue or poor hay in the proportions mentioned above, then the mixture could have a total digestible nutrients value of about 64 percent.

For assistance developing diets containing chopped sugarbeets, contact University of Nebraska extension personnel.

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