Research funded by DairyNZ shows fodder beet has benefits as a winter crop with high metabolic energy, as long as it is properly managed. Photo from Allied Press files
Fodder beet can be a ''game-changer'' for beef farmers.
Lincoln University senior lecturer Dr Jim Gibbs said it was
the perfect crop to fill ''a feed gap'' to allow farmers to
make money from their beef cattle.
''You only make money by doing it well,'' Dr Gibbs told
farmers at Beef and Lamb New Zealand's annual science seminar
at Lincoln University earlier this month. ''I work on 70
project farms, mainly in the South Island, and when I see the
landscape I think: `How could red meat not win in New
Zealand?' It should be winning, but the reality is it's
Dr Gibbs said steers were receiving the same dollar value at
the works they were receiving 10-15 years ago and beef cow
numbers had declined since 2000.
The average New Zealand steer was 26-36 months old when it
went to the works, compared to 12-16 months for prime beef in
Europe and the United States.
The problem was that seasonal grass growth did not tie in
with a cow or steer's feed requirements, creating ''a feed
gap''. Other feed supplements, including grain, lucerne
bales, grass silage, hay, straw, kale and swedes, were not
always cost-effective and cattle were not getting the
metabolic energy they needed.
However, Dr Gibbs said fodder beet provided a low-cost,
high-yield alternative. Fodder beet had been available in New
Zealand since the 19th century but there had been a
perception the leaves were toxic, so it was fed only in small
amounts and often without the leaves, he said.
Research funded by DairyNZ showed fodder beet had benefits as
a winter crop with high metabolic energy, as long as it was
properly managed, as the crop could be acidic, he said. '
'We discovered you could feed cows as much feed as they could
eat every day. It showed you could make a really cheap winter
feed, but transition is important.''
Cows could be eased on to fodder beet by increasing their
intake by 1kg every two days until it reached 8-10kg a day.
The same applied to steers and fodder beet could be grown and
fed out all year round, he said.
Fodder beet trials were also conducted by Banks Peninsula
farmer Brent Fisher and five of his neighbours last year,
with 20 steers fed the crop ad lib during summer, autumn and
The steers went to the works in December at 14-15 months old
for an average carcass weight of 270kg, compared to
2-year-old steers with carcass weights of 270-320kg.
''Fodder beet is not only producing big carcass weights per
hectare but also producing a white fat and a lot of
Dryland farms could expect a yield of 20 tonnes a hectare,
while irrigated properties could produce more than 30 tonnes
and up to 40 tonnes.
''No matter where you go, you always get three months of good
grass. So work out how many cows you can carry through that
period and then work out how much fodder beet you need to get
through until the grass is available again.''