Steve Paisley: Feeding beet pulp in wintering rations

Steve Paisley

With competitive prices for beet pulp and high hay prices, many beef operations have chosen to feed the pressed pulp not only to growing and finishing cattle, but to pregnant and lactating beef cows as well.

In general, beet pulp is a valuable feed resource, and works very well in forage-based rations, such as growing rations and cow-calf diets. Beet pulp is relatively high in fiber (around 22 percent), and the fiber is highly digestible, resulting in a very safe supplemental energy source. Energy values for pressed beet pulp are equal to slightly higher than corn silage, and both can be used to provide needed energy and fiber as well as condition the ration.

• Using pressed beet pulp in feeder rations. Several studies have evaluated the use of pressed beet pulp in step-up rations, grower rations and finishing rations. Wyoming studies conducted during the early to mid ’80s evaluated the use of beet pulp in growing and starter rations. Pressed beet pulp was fed at 20, 30, 40, and 50 percent of the growing ration. Although the wet nature of beet pulp requires that animals must eat a large volume of feed, weight gains were similar across all levels of beet pulp, with 40 percent beet pulp producing the most efficient gains.

Similar studies were conducted at the Panhandle Research Station in Scottsbluff during the ’90s, with pressed beet pulp replacing corn silage in growing diets at 0, 10, 20, and 30 percent of the ration. Gains increased slightly as beet pulp replaced silage in the ration, confirming that the energy value of beet pulp is similar to slightly better than corn silage. In all studies, additional protein was provided, either as alfalfa or commercial supplement.

One feeding consideration is the low phosphorous level of pressed beet pulp. When feeding higher levels of pressed beet pulp, additional phosphorous may be required. Plant-derived protein supplements are typically high in phosphorous, so supplemental protein will also help to address ration phosphorous levels.

• Quality of stored beet pulp. An additional feeding issue with pressed beet pulp is storage. Because of its moisture level (typically 75 percent moisture), pressed beet pulp is too wet to ensile properly, and by late spring, beet pulp piles can take on a whole new appearance. Although pressed beet pulp is an inexpensive feed source, utilizing these piles in late spring may not be as economical as once thought.

There are certainly mold concerns with stored pulp, and while these molds may not be toxic, they could certainly be affecting feed consumption and feed efficiency. While I haven’t found studies specifically addressing moldy beet pulp, a recent study conducted by K-State addresses the impacts of using moldy corn silage in growing diets. In this case, researchers skimmed the top 18 inches from a corn silage pit, and then included the spoiled feed at increasing levels into the growing diet. As the level of spoiled feed increased, feed intakes and overall ration digestibility decreased. This same scenario could also occur with “aged” beet pulp.

• Pressed beet pulp in cow rations. While beet pulp can be used very successfully in growing diets, there is very limited data on feeding pressed beet pulp to pregnant and lactating cows. From a nutrient standpoint, pressed beet pulp could certainly be used to provide additional energy during late pregnancy, as well as after calving, when nutrient requirements are highest. Beet pulp is a safe, high fiber source of energy that complements forage-based rations very well.

Some feeding considerations may include:

1. Pre-calving calcium levels, and the incidence of milk fever. Milk fever is rare, especially in beef herds. It occurs when the cow is unable to mobilize enough calcium from body reserves to maintain blood calcium levels after calving. Dairies reduce the risk of milk tetany by feeding low calcium rations prior to calving, encouraging the mobilization of the cow’s calcium reserves before lactation begins. Therefore, feeding high levels of calcium prior to calving (i.e. alfalfa and beet pulp combinations) may increase the incidence of milk tetany, even in beef herds.

2. Overall ration phosphorous levels. Because the phosphorus level of pressed beet pulp is low, feeding high levels of beet pulp may also require additional phosphorous supplementation, especially as breeding season approaches. Protein supplements, which are generally high in phosphorous, will not only provide additional protein, but also help address the cow’s phosphorous requirements as well. If there are any concerns or questions, feed tests and a simple ration analysis will help determine your overall ration phosphorus level. If necessary, phosphorous issues can also be addressed through the free choice mineral program.

3. Watching the quality of stored beet pulp. As mentioned in the discussion of growing diets, feed quality is also important, especially with pregnant females. While commercial feed testing labs do have analyses for common feed toxins, the list is very short compared to the wide array of commonly occurring mold varieties and associated toxins that exist. If you are concerned about the quality of the feed, consider only feeding stored pulp to cows that have calved, limit the amount that is included in the ration, and selectively feed the pulp, avoiding heavily spoiled areas.

In order to remain competitive, it’s important to utilize available feed resources. Pressed beet pulp, along with other byproduct feeds, are all valuable feed resources. When considering these feeds, it’s important to factor in all costs – not only the cost of the feed, but trucking to your operation, as well as any additional feed expenses, equipment, etc. Considering the benefits and limitations of these byproduct feeds and managing accordingly will help to maximize their economic value.