Early Low Temperatures May Impact Sugar Beet Quality

Early Low Temperatures May Impact Sugar Beet Quality

Sugar beets
Sugar beets not fit for human consumption can be an economical source of feed for beef cattle. Photo credit Karla Wilkie.

Temperatures dropping below 15 degrees in early October may have put some sugar beets 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.

In a University of Nebraska research trial with gestating cows, when 20% sugar beets (dry matter basis) replaced 20% corn, cows performed similarly. When growing calves were fed 44% sugar beets (dry matter basis) they were more efficient than calves receiving corn. In a finishing diet however, when sugar beets replaced corn up to 15%, cattle had reduced performance.

When sugar beets begin to rot, sugars are lost rapidly. When rotting sugar beets were analyzed for water soluble carbohydrates, they were found to contain only 26.9% compared to 73% in fresh chopped beets. Fat soluble carbohydrates were 22.7% in rotting sugar beets compared to 69.5% in fresh chopped beets. Therefore, mixing chopped rotting sugar beets with straw or poor quality hay as soon as possible will help reduce sugar loss. Mixing 10% poor quality roughage and 90% sugar beets on an “as is” or actual pounds basis, and packing in a bunker or agricultural bag is a good way to reduce sugar loss.

The nutrient quality of chopped sugar beets is different from that of sugar beet pulp, which is the by-product of sugar production. Sugar beet pulp has a crude protein content of 10% while sugar beets will likely be 4.5%. The neutral detergent fiber of sugar beet pulp is about 45% and only 15% in sugar beets, making the sugar beet more of a comparable substitute for corn in the diet rather 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/residue and rotting sugar beets. The amount of sugar left in the rotting sugar beet will vary, but assuming they have lost 10% of their original sugar and are mixed with residue/poor quality hay in the proportions mentioned above, then the mixture could have a total digestible nutrients (TDN) value of about 64%.

Sugar beets not fit for human consumption can be an economical source of feed for beef cattle. For assistance developing diets containing chopped sugar beets, contact University of Nebraska Extension personnel.


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