Frozen beets become winter feed

Posted 1/21/10

“The stock seem to be doing good on them,” he said. “They're really eating a lot of salt and mineral for some reason.”

He thinks when the tops froze in October, it took some of the “goody” from them that …

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Frozen beets become winter feed


{gallery}01_21_10/beetnikcows{/gallery} Beets not making way to factory become livestock fodder Big Horn Basin sugar beets that never made it to the factory are turning into winter livestock fodder. Local Western Sugar Cooperative beet growers are feeding both sheep and cattle on beets that remain in the ground in the Lovell factory district, where about 30 percent of the 2009 crop was not harvested. Regan Smith feeds both cattle and sheep on his sugar beets. They are doing well, he said.

“The stock seem to be doing good on them,” he said. “They're really eating a lot of salt and mineral for some reason.”

He thinks when the tops froze in October, it took some of the “goody” from them that usually would remain after the beets were dug.

This year, livestock are eating both the remains of the tops and the beets from the ground.

Smith said sheep, with their smaller muzzles, have been eating deeper into the beet roots than the cattle have. He hasn't plowed up any beets for fear that cows could eat them whole and choke, he said.

“I've had a few sheep choke, but nothing unusual to this point,” Smith said.

Randy Violett, a research technician for the University of Wyoming Research and Extension Center just north of Powell, said cattle choking on beets could be a concern, although sheep can choke on the tops. The animals graze differently because of the structure of their heads and mouths, he said.

“Sheep would be more suited to nibble down into the ground and take more of the beet” plant using their teeth, he said. A cow uses its tongue to lap in plant material and can sweep in dirt, rocks or other material, he said.

“She can't nibble like a sheep can because of her mouth structure,” Violett said. “Cows typically eat a lot of dirt when they graze beet tops. That's hard on the teeth and not real good on the cow either.”

Although there are more beets in the ground for livestock grazing this winter, both Violett and Smith said there won't be many more animals on hand to eat them. High prices for sheep and lambs, combined with the drawn-out harvest, kept many producers from bringing in feeder sheep for the winter.

“Most of the guys that don't graze typically probably won't graze this year either,” Violett said, in part because they lack fencing, stock water tanks and other livestock needs. The number of sheep in the United States is down as part of a general trend, he said, but “a year like this just magnifies the shortage. They might not be able to increase the numbers of feeder lambs.”

Smith said he wanted to order more sheep after the beets froze in October, but no one knew how long the harvest would last. He had to wait for the beets to be released by both the co-op and crop insurance adjusters before he could graze livestock on them.

“We knew on (Oct.) 9th we'd have a wreck,” Smith said. “We've never had that volume (of frozen beets) that early in the year.”

Once the allotment system went in, it was anyone's guess how long the weather would hold, allowing beet growers to dig.

“I couldn't order 10,000 lambs for November, because nobody knew when the dig would end,” he said. By the time he knew he could bring in more sheep, few were available.

“I've got maybe a few more than I usually do, but not as many as I'd like,” Smith said.

Lack of livestock, coupled with a partially-unharvested bumper beet crop, means more beets will still be in the ground when spring ground work starts in a couple of months.

“In the history of our family's operation we've lost a few beets (to frost) now and then,” Smith said, but the family's livestock was able to clean them up over the winter. But yields of 28 to 30 tons per acre leaves a lot more beets in the ground than 20 tons per acre, he pointed out.

Smith said some growers stockpiled beets on their places to feed through the winter and are feeding from the piles. He thinks his animals are eating his unharvested beets better “fresh” out of the ground.

Some growers are looking into making silage from beets, Smith and Violett both said.

In fact, Violett and some local growers experimented with running beets through a tree shredder to create smaller pieces for silage.

They fed beets into the shredder by hand to avoid sending beet-sized rocks through as well. Violett said the labor-intensive process would probably discourage a lot of growers or livestock producers. But Smith said some growers still are researching it, because silage could store longer than whole beets.

Violett said analysis of the shredded beets showed high relative feed values because of the sugar content.

Early-season beets contain a lot of moisture that could dilute the nutrients, he said, but the severely frozen beets may contain less moisture than usual.