Sugar beet pulp shortage and alternative energy sources for beef cattle

The adverse weather conditions experienced by most agriculturalists in 2019 certainly impacted sugar beet production. The reduced volume of sugar beets available for sugar production has impacted the amount of the by-product, sugar beet pulp, available for beef cattle diets this winter.

Sugar beet pulp is often used in gestating cow diets in the winter to increase the energy density of a forage based diet. The highly digestible fiber in sugar beet pulp gives it a total digestible nutrient or TDN value of 85% to 90%. The crude protein value is approximately 10%.

One alternative source of feed that could be incorporated in beef cattle diets in place of sugar beet pulp is corn silage. Well preserved, good quality corn silage can often contain 65% to 70% TDN and about 9% crude protein. Because the energy density is not as high in corn silage as beet pulp, and the moisture content is less, it could not replace beet pulp in a 1:1 ratio and result in the same quality diet.

For example, a 1,300-pound dry, pregnant beef cow fed 23 pounds of medium quality hay, 2 pounds of alfalfa, and 12 pounds of beet pulp, would be receiving 14.8 pounds of TDN and 2.3 pounds of crude protein which is enough energy and protein to maintain body weight and rumen function.

This same cow fed 17 pounds of medium quality hay, 2 pounds of alfalfa, and 20 pounds of corn silage would also receive 14.8 pounds of TDN and 2.3 pounds of crude protein.

Another alternative feed beef producers may have access to this year is the unprocessed sugar beets that were deemed unacceptable for human consumption. When sugar beets are available for livestock feeding, a contract, like what is required to purchase pulp, is not necessary to obtain them. Preserving the sugars from additional loss is important. Making a mixture of poor quality hay or residue and chopped sugar beets and packing it in a bunker or agriculture bag is a good way to store them (

A mixture of approximately 90% sugar beets and 10% straw on an as is weight basis will likely result in a mixture with a TDN value between 60% to 70%. Unfortunately, this mixture is only about 4% crude protein. Therefore, a protein source needs to be added to the cow diet. An example diet for the aforementioned cow containing sugar beets might be as follows: 15 pounds of medium quality hay, 4 pounds of alfalfa, and 20 pounds of a beet/straw mix. This diet would contain approximately the same nutrient value as the two diets above.

Producers should obtain nutrient analysis of their feed ingredients from a commercial laboratory to more correctly meet the nutrient needs of their livestock. Local Nebraska Extension personnel can assist producers with ration balancing when alternative feedstuffs are included to ensure a balanced diet is developed.