Sugar Beet Pulp Shortage Has Producers Seeking Alternative Feed Source

March 31, 2020

Adverse weather conditions in 2019 reduced sugar beet production. This has lowered the number of sugar beets available for sugar production and has impacted the amount of the byproduct, sugar beet pulp, available for beef cattle diets.

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

This same cow fed 17 lb. of medium-quality hay, 2 lb. of alfalfa, and 20 lb. of corn silage would also receive 14.8 lb. of TDN and 2.3 lb. 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% and 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 lb. of medium-quality hay, 4 lb. of alfalfa, and 20 lb. 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.

Source: Drovers