Investigating fodder beet's potential for lamb finishing

9 October 2014

Last season's dry forced a Manawatu farmer to rethink the planned use of his fodder beet crop. The result was an unexpected lamb finishing strategy.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand demonstration farmer Scott Linklater farms 586ha across the Manawatu region. The demonstration farm project is around "strip tillage" cultivation of fodder beet.

In February/March this year, Scott put 350 lambs into an 8ha fodder beet paddock for five weeks. "It was a case of utilising what we had and it was a lot better than the brown feed in the paddock next door."

The lambs ate the high-protein tops and also "chipped" the top of the carbohydrate-packed bulbs. The paddock was then shut up again, before it was strip grazed two months later by cattle – as per the original plan.

"Once fodder beet has a bulb, it's indestructible. You can kick it out of ground and it will still grow," Scott says.

While he did not weigh the lambs as they went onto the crop, they were finished directly off the fodder beet – at 40kg liveweight (18-19kg carcase weight).

The previous year, Scott flushed ewes on the tops.

This season, he is undertaking some trial work, to quantify animal liveweight gains and the impact on overall crop yield of the additional early grazing.

The farm generally produces fodder beet crops with 30T/ha yields – 5T/ha in the tops and 25T/ha in the bulb. Scott says the lamb grazing had the unexpected benefit of balancing up the crop for cattle, with slightly less bulb available, yet fully re-grown tops. This meant the ratio of protein to carbohydrate was more favourable.

Lincoln University scientist Dr Jim Gibbs says lambs have a high demand for protein to achieve finishing growth rates and this can be provided by fodder beet leaf.

"However, the trade off is that autumn use of the leaf will radically reduce the leaf area available to generate the bulb. As bulb growth peaks in autumn, this usually results in a significantly reduced overall crop yield in late autumn/winter. If the bulbs are harvested in autumn, this cost is avoided and this system can be very efficient."

Dr Gibbs says the only animal health caution for lambs and sheep on fodder beet is clostridial disease, as a consequence of the high sugar loads. "These can produce a 'pulpy kidney' or 'redgut' type of sudden death in stock that have not been vaccinated. Once vaccinated with the standard '5 in 1', stock are protected."

He recommends lambs have two shots before going on to fodder beet, while ewes and hoggets should be vaccinated at least one week before entry to the crop.

The Fodder Beet Club

If you are interested in using fodder beet for sheep production, consider joining the Fodder Beet Club. It is a new initiative, whereby participating farmers will grouped into local 'clubs' and be invited to seminars and field days on fodder beet's best use in your area, as well as access to fodder beet advice.

This story was originally published in Heartland Sheep

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