Some years weather conditions cause sugar beets intended to be processed for human consumption to start to deteriorate. When this happens, the beets are no longer acceptable for human consumption and may become available for beef cattle diets at a fraction of the cost of other energy feed sources.
A research trial was conducted at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center feedlot at Scottsbluff using sugar beets as an energy source. In that trial, a diet of 20% sugar beets, 20% wet distillers grains, and 60% straw (dry matter basis) was compared to a diet of 20% corn, 20% wet distillers grains, and 60% wheat straw for late gestation cows. There was no difference between treatments in cattle performance, and cows in both treatments gained body condition during the two-month trial.
In that trial, the complete mixed ration that included the sugar beets was stored in an agricultural bag for later use and did undergo some fermentation. The beet pieces that were part of the mixed ration coming out of the agricultural bag were soft and there were no problems with cows choking or refusing feed.
Producers who purchase deteriorating sugar beets should consider mixing them with straw or low quality forage to preserve as much of the sugar as possible. Packing the mixture as much as possible will help encourage fermentation and reduce additional rotting. However, most producers are not going to want to mix the complete ration at the time of packing and therefore must determine how much straw or low quality forage to use. Some producers have mixed on a dry matter basis 30% straw with the beets. On an as-is basis, this is approximately 15%. This particular mixture ended up being about 69% total digestible nutrients (TDN) TDN but only 4% crude protein (CP). Additional protein would need to be added to this feed mix to balance a diet for either cows or calves. As producers put mixtures together for packing, it is important to keep track of how much straw or forage they mix with the beets. Knowing this ratio can help determine the quality of the feed mix. Extension educators and specialists can help producers calculate the feeding value of the mix they develop and balance a diet for the cattle they are feeding.
Due to the possibility of ash contamination from frequent handling of the beets, it is best to keep dry matter inclusion of the beets to no more than 20%-30% of the total diet dry matter.
A webinar entitled “Utilizing Deteriorating Sugar Beets” highlighting the research done at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center on using sugar beets as an energy source for beef cattle diets is available at beef.unl.edu.