Panhandle Perspectives - November 7, 2017

Sugarbeet chopping demonstration
Using a special bucket manufactured by Putsch, research technician Josh Buttle chops whole sugar beets (from the pile in the background) into pieces (foreground pile) that will be mixed with wheat straw and fed to calves.
Latest phase of chopped sugarbeet study looks at their value for feeding calves

Sugarbeets that are not processed into sugar for human consumption are being evaluated for their feeding value for cattle in growing and finishing diets at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center feedlot north of Scottsbluff.

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Dr. Karla Jenkins

Research being conducted by Dr. Karla Jenkins, cow-calf and range management specialist at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, is studying whether sugarbeets may be an economical energy source to grow for livestock in place of other commodity crops that require expensive inputs.

This is the third year of a trial in which sugarbeets are being combined with wheat straw and fed to cattle. In 2015 and 2016, the trials involved pregnant cows.

In coming months, a group of weaned calves will be compared. First, a growing trial will be conducted, with weaned calves receiving diets with or without sugarbeets (44 percent dry matter) as an energy source. Those calves will then be used on a finishing trial, with the amount of sugarbeets on a dry-matter basis at either 0 percent, 15 percent, or 30 percent.

Daily gain, feed efficiency, dry matter intake, and carcass characteristics will be measured and evaluated. The objective is to determine how the calves’ performance is affected by including sugarbeets as an energy source in the diet.

Feeding livestock beets that cannot be used for human consumption might benefit not only sugar producers, but also might give cattle feeders another option in addition to corn, according to Jenkins. But feedyards need to be able to project how much gain the cattle will experience when fed beets, and know how long they will need to feed them to get them to the desired weight.

The sugarbeets are not fed whole, but can be chopped with a special bucket mounted on a payloader. A demonstration at the UNL Panhandle Research Feedlot in late October showed off a loader bucket attachment designed and built by Putsch, mounted on a loader provided by Murphy Tractor & Equipment Co. of Gering. The demonstration was sponsored by BetaSeed.

Sugarbeet chopping demonstration
A close-up view of the sugarbeet-straw mixture.

The current study requires 300 tons of beets. Some were donated by BetaSeed, some donated by Nick Lapaseotes, some by Western Sugar, and others bought from the Adams Brothers.

At the demonstration, feedlot staff demonstrated how they chop sugarbeets and mixed the pieces with wheat straw. The mixture is stored in large agricultural bags while it is used in the growing and finishing trials. The bags hold 140 to 150 tons each.

The earlier research using sugarbeets to replace corn in limit-fed confinement cow diets was promising, according to Jenkins. That study indicated that gestating cows could be maintained on diets containing sugar beets as well as corn.

At the same time, several potential problems with feeding sugarbeets did not materialize, according to Jenkins, including choking and issues with palatability. And there was no mineral toxicity.

Some sectors of animal agriculture are using beets in the diet. Dairy industries in the southern and western regions of the country have found sugarbeets to be a profitable energy source to raise, according to Jenkins. In addition, research in the dairy industry has reported increased milk production from feeding sugarbeets.

Jenkins pointed out that dairies just across the border from the Nebraska Panhandle, in Colorado, might be a market for western Nebraska sugarbeets not wanted or needed for human consumption.

In Jenkins’ earlier research feeding sugarbeets to pregnant cows, the cows performed similarly on diets of 20 percent corn and 20 percent chopped sugarbeets.

Gestating beef cows were limit-fed an energy-dense diet in confinement. The two treatments were diets containing 20 percent corn or 20 percent chopped sugarbeets on a dry matter basis. Diets also contained 20 percent wet distillers grains and 60 percent wheat straw on a dry matter basis. Cows performed similarly on those two diets.

With the calves, she said she expects similar results to corn, energy-wise. But she’s not sure how sugar will compare to corn in its effects on beef marbling and carcass.