Make Silage Out of Sugarbeets

Sweet solution disposes of excess crop.

Published on: Nov 6, 2006
What to do with all the excess sugar beets? Record yields has prompted American Crystal Sugar Company – a farmer owned cooperative – to leave 8% of the crop in the field.

Here's one solution for unharvested sugarbeets: Make silage out of them and feed them to cattle. It's a common practice in Alberta.

Greg Lardy, NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist, says that to use sugar beets as silage, remove the beet tops, lift the beets and then run them through a tub grinder to break them into pieces suitable for a silage pile.

However, beets alone are too moist (about 75 to 80% moisture) to make a good-quality silage, according to Lardy. Thus, they need to be mixed with some type of dry feed, such as hay or straw, to achieve the proper moisture content (60-70%) and be stored effectively as silage. You can add dry feed to the beets as they are being chopped, which will eliminate the mixing step.

The beet-to-dry feed ratio should be 5 tons of chopped beets for every ton of dry feed to reach the proper moisture level in the silage.

Follow good silage-making practices to preserve the beets.

"The most important principle is to achieve an anaerobic environment," he says. "This is accomplished by packing the silage as it's being placed into a bunker or pit, sealing the silage with plastic, and monitoring the silage pile and repairing any holes in the plastic covering the bunker."

Sugar beet silage contains slightly lower energy than corn or barley silage, but still makes a very acceptable feed for beef cows, backgrounding calves or other ruminants.

One potential problem with sugar beet silage is the possibility of cattle choking on it. Alberta producers have reported occasional cases. Lardy recommends keeping an eye on cattle being fed sugarbeet silage.

Don't feed beet tops that were sprayed with triphenyltinhydroxide to livestock, warns Mohamed Khan, NDSU Extension sugar beet specialist.

Check for other herbicide and pesticide restrictions, he advises.

Source: NDSU Extension Communications
For more information on producing silage, visit the NDSU Extension Web site www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/dairy/as1254w.htm.