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Sugar Beet Feed

Technical Note Volume 1 No. 1

Author: Dr. Sioghán Kavanagh, Nutrition Specialist, Teagasc Oak Park, Carlow

Substantial quantities of surplus sugar beet will be available for feeding to livestock this winter.  Sugar beet is nutritious, palatable and energy rich. It is also lacking in protein, phosphorous and calcium and potentially dangerous because of its very high sugar level. Proper diet formulation and feeding management are essential when feeding beet to ensure good annual performance and minimise digestive upsets or even fatalities.

  • Introduce Gradually - Start with 5 kg/head/day of chopped beet. Make sure that the majority of animals are eating before increasing levels further, increase by 5 kg every 3-4 days until the desired level is reached.  It is advisable to include straw (0.5-1.0 kg) in the diet when introducing sugar beet
  • Do Not Overfeed - 25 kg of sugar beet is equivalent to almost 6.5 kg of barley. A further 1 kg or more of concentrate will be needed to balance for protein, equivalent to a total concentrate feeding level of 7.5 kg or more. For cattle of 500-600 kg it is generally preferable not to exceed this level. For weanlings (250 - 350 kg) about 15 kg of washed, chopped beet is a safe level after proper introduction. 
    For milking cows, 10-12 kg of sugar beet should not be exceeded.  Betaine in beet can cause a fishy taint in milk and high levels of beet may reduce cheese eye formation.  However, at these feeding rates this should not be a problem.  Feeding sugar beet to dry cows: 10 kg of sugar beet would account for 20 % or less of the DM intake of a dry cow and there should not be a need for a specific pre-calver mineral with this – a standard pre-calver is fine.   
  • Feeding Management - Sugar beet is higher in energy than most concentrate feeds and should be treated as a "wet concentrate". All animals should have access simultaneously therefore feeding space should be 600 mm (2 feet) for finishing cattle and 500 mm for weanlings. When feeding levels exceed 14 kg (finishing cattle) or 10 kg (weanlings) twice – daily or complete dietfeeding is essential to prevent acidosis and to ensure efficient digestion of all feed.
  • Wash and Chop- At - % dry matter sugar beet is too hard to be fed whole where decent intake is desired, chopping is essential. Unwashed beet can carry up to 16-18% clay as tare even in good harvesting conditions. Most of this must be removed by some means. Mechanical cleaning is the minimum requirement but for high feeding levels and long feeding periods washing will be necessary. Over time the intake of soil (containing Iron and Molybdenum) will result in the depletion of copper.
  • Freshly harvested sugar beet contain high levels of nitrate which can cause poisoning - this risk passes after a delay of 4-5 days following harvesting.
  • Frost - Frosted beet will cause digestive upsets.

Sugar Beet as roughage replacement

- Sugar beet can replace scarce hay or silage, in the same way in which any dry concentrate can be used. Maximum feeding levels should not exceed those given above and where further concentrate is required it should be non-starchy e.g. soya hulls or pulp products. All ruminants need some long fibre in their diet for normal digestive function, at least 1 kg of dry matter for weanlings and 2 kg for finishing cattle (5 and 10 kg respectively of wet silage).


- Sugar beet must be balanced for protein and minerals. Protein level should be brought to 14-15 % / kg diet DM for weanlings and 12-13 % / kg diet DM for beef cattle when feeding with silage. Suckler cows will normally be fed sugar beet either as a roughage replacement pre-calving (max. 20 kg) when the protein level should be brought up to 12-13% or post calving indoors on poor roughage, protein level 16%-18%. Soya bean meal, rape seed meal and cotton seed meal are all suitable protein sources. The best cotton source for balancing sugar beet is West African Extracted. See attached table. Feed 100 g of high calcium - high phosphorous (10% P) mineral per day.

kg of protein balancer required to balance 10 kg of sugar beet

Dietary Crude Protein %
  13% 14% 15%
Soya bean meal (48% CP) 0.50 0.60 0.7
Cottonseed meal (40% CP) 0.65 0.75 0.90
Rapeseed meal (35% CP) 0.80 1.00 1.2
Corn gluten feed (20% CP) 2.00 2.6 3.2
50:50 soya : rapeseed 0.6 0.75 0.85


  • Protein content sugar beet 5%
  • Dry matter content sugar beet 23%
  • Figures rounded off where appropriate

Comment: The higher dry matter and lower protein content of sugar beet increases the amount of protein concentrate required by comparison with fodder beet.


Sugar beet can be stored in a long narrow clamp, max 4 m wide and up to 2.2 m high. The clamp should be covered with straw to a depth of 0.5 m. A polythene cover may be used over the straw but a central vent 0.5 m wide should run along the apex of the clamp to allow ventilation. Beet for storage should be tightly crowned or serious losses can occur.

Ensiling sugar beet

Whole-crop sugar beet (with lots of succulent leaves) will produce a lot of effluent, and it would take closer to 100kg beet or citrus pulp/tonne to hold most of the effluent. 50kg would hold a good bit, but there could still be a lot of effluent. Most of the effluent will come from the leaves, and the amount coming from the roots will depend on how severely crushed they are and on how high the mass is stored. Should put drainage system (could be straw bales) under it to channel out the effluent that wants to escape. The roots do need to be crushed so as to avoid too much air spaces. Usually have to throw the pulp on the trailer-load of beet after it is dropped at front of silo - it will get mixed as it is pushed up the silo. Could put it in layers on the pit but this is too hard since you cant easily drive on the beet in the pit (the physical nature of the crushed beet wont carry a tractor unless there is a good bit of straw MIXED with the beet - and you don’t usually want the latter as it can reduce overall feed value too much). If ensiling roots alone, then the amount of effluent would be quite modest, and the amount of pulp required to soak up effluent would be quite low. In some cases pulp might not be needed. In all cases, 50 kg /tonne is plenty. Again, need to crush the beet to help exclude air spaces. It might be useful to try to put a layer of silage or something like that on top of this ensiled beet to seal the surface optimally - not essential though.Finally, if there is an option of low, narrow pits then go for the latter as this type of silage can be prone to heating.

Using oat hulls to ensile sugar beet, use 100 kg / t. Or alternatively use 3% chopped straw blown in in layers and use the remainder in oat hulls. The total should be approx. 10% of the total ie. 90% sugar beet and 10% straw + oat hulls. – Martin Ryan