My first experience of fodder beet was many years ago when employed as a farm worker by Harley Jenkins on his Floridale Angus stud in Darfield, Mid Canterbury. Manually loading the truck with fodder beet for supplement feed for both bulls and breading cows was a regular winter activity.
More recently, while looking to purchase a small farm around Lincoln I started to appreciate how difficult it is to get a reasonable return from capital intensive farming. Many farm magazines report the rapid growth in the use of fodder beet as a supplement and this has had a huge impact in all areas from supplementing milking cows to growing fawns.
I didn’t realise the full potential to change the profitability, earning capability and production of any farm with cultivable land suitable to grow fodder beet until I read an article by Sandra Taylor in Heartland Beef, published in May 2014.
In this article Brent and Anna Fisher of Silverstream Charolais, in conjunction with Professor Jim Gibbs from Lincoln University, break fed 107 mixed beef breed calves on 10ha of fodder beet with 2kg per head per day of Lucerne baleage as a supplement. http://agrihq.co.nz/article/fast-finishing?p=6 by Sandra Taylor, AgriHq.
Calves were introduced to fodder beet over a two-week period and were on full break feed of fodder beet from 15 April until 23 October. The calf weight gain on the fodder beet was a modest 800g per day, which then increased to 2.2kg per day when moved onto spring grass. The first draft of 10 animals went ‘prime’ to Silver Fern Farms in December with most gone by March and achieved a ‘reserve grade’ of 60% compared to the average 25%.
Brent and Anna believe 2000kg of live weight gain per hectare is achievable with the right balance of fodder beet and pasture. The returns are comparable to dairy grazing and mean you do not have overlays of R1 and R2 fattening stock, simplifying grazing pressure workload.
Brent and Anna Fisher’s experiment demonstrates the potential to produce a huge amount of high energy stock feed in a relatively small area. However, instead of supplementing pasture with a small area of fodder beet it is worth thinking about reversing this process and estimating how much grass/Lucerne you need from September to March to finish off the stock, and over winter feed primarily fodder beet. This maximises the area in fodder beet, the calf numbers and hopefully profit.
By sampling the yield of your fodder beet in late March you can accurately estimate the total dry matter available over winter prior to calf purchases at the autumn sales. Good pasture management that leaves some residual going into winter will help ensure a bank of quality pasture is available September/October when stock come off the fodder beet. This enables the substantial spring growth rates reported.
Introducing fodder beet could allow some farms to vastly increase turnover, profit and returns on the capital invested. Could this allow a second son or daughter to also share the farm? Could it enable earlier retirement with fodder beet profits funding the off-farm investment fund and enabling a farm succession plan?
There are a number of links to articles you may find useful to stimulate discussions with farming groups or your adviser.