Sugar Beets as a Feed Ingredient

The 2008 Ontario sugar beet crop is an exceptional crop with yields much better than expected; resulting in more beets than can be reasonably processed. Sugar beet producers are being encouraged to consider a Set Aside Program option. A portion of the crop would be left unharvested or undelivered for processing.

Those who are planning to participate in the Set Aside Program may be looking for alternatives such as harvesting the whole beets for use as a livestock feed. Several livestock producers may have had experience with feeding the by-product of sugar beet processing - moist beet pulp, but not with feeding whole sugar beets. The whole beets' sugar content and their digestible fibre make them a good source of energy and have been successfully used in feeding ruminants, such as cattle and sheep. The feeding value of sugar beets could be considered similar to corn and cob meal with equivalent energy levels but with slightly lower protein than corn and cob meal.

The chart below compares the typical nutritional analysis of whole sugar beets to beet pulp, corn silage, corn and cob meal and shelled corn on a dry matter basis.

Dry Matter

Crude Protein

Energy (TDN)



Whole Sugar Beets

20% 6.8% 81% .24% .24%

Sugar Beet Pulp (moist)

25% 9.0% 72% .72% .20%

Corn and Cob Meal

87% 9.0% 82% .10% .24%

Corn Silage

35% 8.0% 69% .30% .20%

Shelled Corn

87% 9.5% 88% .01% .30%

Considerations When Feeding Whole Sugar Beets

  • The high moisture levels (approximately 80%) and relatively high sugar content of whole beets can present storage challenges.
  • Industry consultants are suggesting unprocessed sugar beets may be stored in a pile with minimal spoilage until well into February. However, piled beets must be used up prior to warm weather in mid March as warm temperatures will cause rapid decay and significant nuisance insect problems will develop.
  • Ensiling processed sugar beets in combination with a dry ingredient such as straw, hay or corn stalks to achieve a final moisture level of 35-40% can be a longer term storage option. The pile should be packed and covered to exclude oxygen.
  • The location of temporary storage piles should be considered carefully in order to minimize the potential for environmental contamination and offensive smells. Monitor and prevent any potential runoff from reaching surface water bodies like streams, ditches and ponds.
  • Mixing processed sugar beets with straw at a ratio of four or five beets to one of straw has been shown to be an effective ensiling mixture.
  • The sugar content of beets provides an excellent source of fermentable carbohydrate needed for successful fermentation.
  • Whole beets can be processed by various methods such as feeding them through a forage harvester; in a tub grinder; extended agitation in TMR mixer; driving over them or putting them through an industrial wood chipper.
  • Cattle and sheep can consume unprocessed whole sugar beets. To reduce the risk of smaller beets becoming lodged in animal's throats and to facilitate a more uniform mixing with other ingredients it is recommended that sugar beets be broken or processed prior to feeding.
  • Suggested ration inclusion rates are up to 20% of the dry matter intake for backgrounding/growing cattle and up to 50% of a beef cow's dry matter intake.
  • The beet tops can also be fed but because the majority of the feed value is contained within the beet, it may be better to focus efforts on preserving and utilizing the beet itself.
  • It is important to determine which fungicide and herbicide was used with the sugar beet crop as there may be label restrictions regarding the use of sugar beets as a feed ingredient. For example, the label on Tilt™ states "Do not graze or feed sugar beet tops treated with propiconazole to livestock" while there are no restrictions on feeding the beet itself. The label on Senator 70W™ displays the warning -"No sugar beets or parts of sugar beets are to be used as fodder or feed in Canada." Headline™ does not appear to have any feeding restrictions. The bottomline -check the label!

Livestock producers who decide to take advantage of this opportunity to feed sugar beets should work with a qualified livestock nutritionist to ensure the rations are properly balanced for optimal animal health and performance.

For more information of feeding sugar beets, contact::

Ron Lackey
Feed Ingredients and Byproducts Feeding Specialist
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
581 Huron Street,
Stratford,ON N5A 5T8
Tel: 519-271-7407

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300