We grow fodder beet here on the farm as a feed for the cattle.
Fodder beet is a similar plant to the more commonly seen sugar beet plant. The sugar content is lower, but the yield per acre is typically somewhat higher. Sugar beet growers may typically expect to grow between 20 and 30 tonnes per acre, whereas fodder beet typically yields between 25 and 40 tonnes per acre (although it may be slightly lower in dry matter). 30 plus tonnes per acre is quite common and 40 tonnes per acre is quite achievable given a good soil type and ample summer rainfall.
There are different varieties of fodder beet that have different characteristics. Generally speaking there are red or orange coloured varieties which tend to be slightly softer and also tend to grow further out of the ground. These varieties may be suitable for grazing by sheep or feeding whole to sheep and cattle without chopping the roots. Another advantage is that less soil will cling to the beet if it is harvested with a machine. One disadvantage of these varieties is that they tend to be more susceptible to frost as they are growing more out of the ground and they are also softer varieties.
There are also white varieties of fodder beet. Some of these have the tendancy to grow deeper into the ground, be higher in dry matter, and also be harder. This gives them more frost protection. They can usually withstand frosts of minus 5 degrees C without too much damage. These harder beets can also have better storing capabilities when harvested and kept in a clamp. They normally require chopping for cattle to eat these harder roots.
We have tended to grow the white beet on our farm.
Fodder beet will usually store in a clamp (heap, protected from frost with straw bales – in the UK) until the end of April. Some growers will place the retaining bales of straw on pallets to aid air flow into the clamp to help keep the beet cool and facilitate longer storage periods.
We put air ducts under the clamp towards the back of the heap, so we can ventilate with a fan to keep the temperature of the beet correct. This can lead to much longer storage and less deterioration.
The cattle really like to eat the beet. It can raise dry matter intake and reduce the amount of barley we need to feed. Protein content is, however, lower than barley so this needs to be accounted for. We feed the beet to both growing and fattening cattle and to the suckler cows. The suckler cows get low quality silage plus some beet. The amount of beet we feed to the sucklers depends on their condition score and if we are trying to get the cows to increase of decrease their condition.