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Making Fodderbeet work

Making Fodderbeet work

Mike Copland’s fodderbeet crop topped the Ashburton region this season – yielding 44.5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare.

The crop covered 23 hectares, on a 10-year rotation, and won the Ashburton A&P Association fodder beet competition, before placing third in Mid-Canterbury.

However, growing successful fodder was only half the equation for Copland and his wife, Michelle, who milk 750 cows in a hybrid business partnership with Mike’s parents.

While beet is a cost-effective autumn and winter feed, it is volatile and hard to get production from cows that are unwell or mineral deficient.

Fodderbeet has 30-50% less phosphorus than either pasture or kale, and it is well below the US National Research Council’s recommendations for phosphorus supplementation in dairy cattle.

However, Copland has proactively refined his pasture and stock management in the last few years to make feeding fodder beet successful for him.

Last season, his fodder beet came in at 38 tonnes per hectare. Copland said the difference this year included an early soil-test, and that he added more lime early, ploughed, harrowed and top-worked the paddock.

He also added one million litres of effluent and 100 tonnes of solids so “there was plenty of potassium in the soil.” His fertiliser included a Potash and urea mix.

“The beauty of the fish fertiliser is that it only costs $2/litre, so at $20/ha, why not? It’s beautiful stuff, and I think that had a big impact this season,” said Copland.

He also treated the whole farm with a biological grass grub spray in November/December and only had one small breakthrough area for the whole season.

Mildew was a challenge in a wetter-than-usual season, but Copland sprayed early, so they could harvest the crops earlier.

The beet was fed to two late-lactation milking herds. Their daily feed breakdown was 9kg grass, 5kg beet (peak), 2kg palm kernel, 1kg home-grown barley, and ad lib straw.

“We always have straw available for the cows – on the laneways and in the paddocks. They need it, they eat it, it helps with that gut-fill, and it keeps them happy,” Copland said.

“We start off feeding 1kg/cow of the fodder beet, then we move to 2kg for a few days, and so on until we’re feeding up to 5kg at around the two-week mark. That’s the most we would give the milkers. It’s high energy, they put on weight, and it extends our lactation to 310 days.

“It works out at 8c/kg to grow. You do have to use the transition time and mineral supplementation to safeguard against potential metabolic issues,” Copland said.

He also offers mineral loose licks.

Copland said there was no question in his mind about the value of the right mineral supplementation.

“I’m aware what fodderbeet can do to cows if it’s handled wrong, and I’m countering that by transitioning cattle on and off it gradually, making sure our cows are full all the time, and supplementing them with the Max Phos Loose-Lick. The loose-lick is an important part of my management plan, and we’ve been using it for five years now.

“You may think your animal health costs are up there by spending additional money on minerals, but we just finished the cash-flow for this season, and we are 15% below budget for animal health.

“We’ve had less lame cows, less mastitis…less everything really. I feel that is a pretty good result,” he said.

Caption: Mike Copland’s fodderbeet crop yielded 44.5 tonnes per hectare this autumn.