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Beet is a good feed despite weather damage

Although it is still early in the year, it is now time to make decisions regarding winter feeding for this year. Because of the current and projected high prices of concentrates, good quality forages such as beet and maize should be top of your considerations.

The past year has been a bumper one for the growing of fodder beet but a difficult year for its harvesting and utilisation. It is an excellent feed that will improve beef animal performance and carcass quality. Beet will also have significant positive effects on milk yields and milk solids. It provides an excellent source of energy, which is readily available to the ruminant animal.

Large amounts of the beet crop grown in the country weren't harvested at the onset of the snow and freezing temperatures in early December. Some weather damage occurred. Crops that had a reasonable cover of snow (10-15cm) had the leaf portion of the plant destroyed but luckily the root section may have had some protection from the penetrating frost. High dry matter varieties that grow deeper into the soil were best protected. The degree of damage varied throughout the country but all crops suffered some trouble. The amount of damage can be accessed if a sample number of roots are split. When there is a translucent grey appearance then frost has had an effect.

Temperatures of -3 C and below will generally damage all varieties of beet. The cell tissue is ruptured during the freezing and thawing process. When frost-damaged beet is harvested, it rapidly thaws and a sugary-type fluid is released. This can be seen oozing from the harvested pile. There is a very obvious loss of feeding value from the root when this occurs. The roots are very unstable and will only last one week before they are rendered worthless for feeding.

If there is still some frost-damaged beet to be harvested, it is best to only harvest small quantities. Harvesting enough to last a maximum of three days is best practice.

Clean, undamaged beet is trading at around €40/t at the moment. Relative to concentrate price, this represents real value. Severely frost-damaged beet has a maximum value of €20/t. There will be a cost involved in washing and chopping but these are essential practices when feeding beet. There is no real limit on feeding rates of beet for beef animals. In fact, provided the total ration of the animal is balanced for protein, long fibre and minerals, then up to 70pc of the beef animal's dry matter intake can be made up from clean beet.

If a farm can grow beet and is well set up to handle it efficiently, then the savings that can be made are significant in the coming year. A good supply of water to wash the beet and an effective and fast method of chopping are essential to make it less of a chore. Long-term beet storage is less of a concern nowadays. Many farmers are now washing and chopping beet on arrival and mixing it with citrus or beet pulp at a rate of five parts beet to one part pulp, before ensiling it in a clamp. Where maize silage or whole-crop cereals are available then either of these forages can be re-ensiled with beet at a rate of 70pc beet, 30pc maize/whole crop.

This method provides effective storage and reduces the daily workload on farm. Beet stored using any of these methods allows for storage for up to six months with minimal loss.

In summary, the effect of the bad weather should be put aside and look at beet as a way in which to reduce costs and, in doing so, increase performance in the coming season.

Gerry Giggins is a nutritionist with Richard Keenan and Co Ltd. Email: or phone 087 906 6478

Indo Farming