Fodder beet is not in the Brassica family which is why its popularity is increasing. Fodder beet can have much higher dry matter yields and is high in energy, palatability and digestibility, which means if the crop is good this can lead to much higher yields on lower areas.


The biggest potential issue with fodder beet is acidosis.  This is when the rumen has too much digestible starch product and makes too much acid for the rumen bacteria.  The bacteria that help digest the diet die off and hence the diet cannot be digested. The best treatment for this is prevention!  The best prevention is a good transition period so the bacteria can get used to the new feed and change accordingly.  Practically, what this means is that for at least two weeks the fodder beet needs to be slowly introduced and the cows not allowed to gorge on the crop.


A bombproof way to transition the cows is to feed 2 kg of beet for the first 2 days (and of course making up the dry matter total with balage and hay and straw) and then every second day increase the beet allowance by 1 kg. By the end of the 14 days they will be transitioned properly. When feeding the cows, feed the fibre in the morning and then in the afternoon feed the crop.


For beet it is important to have at least 2 hours between feeding the supplement and the crop.  It is important to have a safety fence as cows escaping through the wire can gorge and encourage acidosis.


The cows need to eat the tops and bulbs together as the bulbs tend to be low in crude protein and the leaves are high. A long feeding face is the best as this encourages less bossing and the cows tend to all get a fair chance at the crop. Ideally, feed under the wire for the correct crop allocation.  Be aware how far cows reach under the wire!! This can change their uptake by a huge amount. Be aware of what is left behind.  As the cows get used to the crop, they will come and clean up what was left behind from the previous break and this can cause issues.


It is important to get your crop tested for its yield and Dry Matter content so you know exactly what you should be feeding the cows.  The crop can be deceiving, and levels that are in books are only a guide.


Key points:-

·     Transition period from grass to crop needs to be 2 weeks, gradually increasing the amount of crop.

·     Ideal diet is 7kg fodder beet, 3kg balage, 2kg straw/hay. (Never feed more than 10kg of beet 35% fibre ideal).

·     Need long feeding face.  Safety fence is important - breakouts can be dangerous.

·     Feed supplement in morning and beet in afternoon.

·     Don’t do time transition, cows can eat too much beet in an hour – quantity allocation only.

·     Have crop measured and tested so you know exactly what you are feeding.

·     Need to feed tops and bulbs together.

·     Rumen acidosis can be an important issue – why fibre is so important.  Signs – depression, dehydration, scouring, bloating, milk fever, sudden death.

·     Any cow “not doing” – take off crop straight away (subclinical acidosis).

·     Never feed frosted crops – potential for bloat.

·     Nitrate poisoning can be an issue.

·     Transitioning back to grass doesn’t appear to be an issue.


If fed properly, especially with good transitioning periods, the cows can do very well on the beet – the grazier needs to be aware of the potential pitfalls and hopefully be able to avoid them.

From the Dairy Farmer Newsletter - May 2012