Fodder beet as a milking supplement

Fodder beet (FB) has revolutionised the way farmers winter dairy cows in the South Island, but it is now making its name as a key milking supplement for autumn and early spring, AbacusBio farm consultant Kevin Wilson writes.

Supplying supplements for the platform to support milk production through autumn can be a challenge, often resulting in the reliance on bought-in feed.

Many dairy farmers in the south are now turning to FB to maintain milk production during seasonal feed deficits. Although FB yields vary by region, paddock selection and management, it is widely accepted to be a relatively cheap supplement (7-13c/kgDM) – providing high metabolisable energy (ME) to support strong milk yields.

FB also persists well through dry periods and will maintain quality for long periods in-situ or after lifting. Therefore, it is a very versatile crop that can be consumed over a large grazing window.

Most dairy farms will reduce stocking rates and use supplements to maintain milk production through late summer and autumn. However, rather than using traditional supplements such as pasture silage, which can be time consuming and have a relatively high wastage rate, FB is becoming the preferred option.

A publication by Riley. (2015) concludes that New Zealand dairy farms would benefit by an average of $70,000 if they used FB rather than grain or palm kernel extract through the 2014-15 low pay-out season.

Feeding FB through this period has many advantages, including low cost, high ME, low wastage, high milk response, weight gain, versatile, easy to grow and manage, and lower nitrogen losses.

It is fast becoming fundamental in providing farmers a high-octane feed that is versatile and enhances milk production at any time of the year. FB is low in crude protein, which is why it can only make up a small proportion (4-5kg) of a milking cow’s diet. However, this makes it the perfect feed to offer alongside quality pasture.

To support milk production through autumn, it is recommended that about 1ha per 100 cows (4kg/cow for 65 days) be planted; this will effectively eliminate the need for other expensive supplements during this period.

DairyNZ has a strong emphasis on meeting body condition score targets to promote animal production and reproductive performance. FB can play a major role in meeting these targets while maintaining a relatively low cost and profitable system.