Thank God for fodder beet – John van der Goes

I have been writing this blog in my head for the last three weeks and finally I have got round to getting it down! Now I’m sitting here listening to the rain fall and thinking it may be just what we need, a good top up for the rain just over a week ago.

Thank God for the fodder beet.

I was given a transition plan by Brian Cornish, who has helped me with the crop since I made the decision to plant it. A quick check gave us a crop yield of 29 tonne per ha at 100 days and still growing.

I began feeding it out at the beginning of February. We started by pulling the beets out, putting them in a trailer and chopping them up a bit before throwing them to the cows.

JVG feeding out fodder beet

After trying to pull them out by their leaves and just breaking the leaves off, then grabbing the bulb and pulling it up, I tried giving them a kick to knock the plant over and then picking them up. Not too bad a job as we had only 70 beets to feed a day, plus a couple of Dutch relatives to help.

JVG fodder beet on feeder + helpers

Then we increased the number of bulbs every second day – you can go up about a kg of dry matter each time. I managed to get this all wrong and found out after a week that I had not been feeding them as much as I thought.

During the week I had been thinking of better ways to feed the bulbs out and came up with the idea of using the bale feeder as we were feeding baled silage as well. This worked really well and the helpers could come along after and cut the bulbs up behind the feeder. After a few days I decided that there was no need to cut them up any more as the cows seemed to have got the hang of eating them.JVG fodder beet bulb

I also thought that maybe we could weigh the bale feeder with the beet in and then empty it to see how much the cows were getting. Since I knew how many bulbs there were in each load I could also work out the weight and dry matter for each plant on average. The average weight for each plant was 2.9 kg.

Brian told me that the samples he had sent to the lab came back with the bulbs at 20% dry matter and the leaves at 15% dry matter. This worked out to be around half a kg DM per plant. I now had better figures to work with and increased the feeding levels to suit. With the bale feeder holding a maximum of 200 plants we carried on carting beet to the cows till we had created a big enough area for them to get into the paddock and graze the crop. Since they needed 3000 plants a day at the level I wanted to feed them (10 kg DM/cow) the thought of doing it in the bale feeder was a bit daunting.

So now we send the cows up each day around midday, after they have eaten their silage and most of their grass, for about five hours to eat their break of fodder beet. So far we are through about half of the first paddock with two more to go. We still have around 100 days left as each paddock should last about 40 days. We could still be milking when they calve next season…

JVG fodder beet break graze

It does seem strange to have the cows full and quite happy in the middle of our dry period when they are normally looking for extra feed.

The rest of our time has been taken up with fixing things that have needed repair and had been put off till they could wait no longer. Some deer fencing at the runoff needed repair before a concert was held there. Our electric fence stopped going (the insides of it melted) nearly starting a fire. Not too good as the unit is in the garage attached to the house. A power cable came down across an electric wire sending current the wrong way.

At least I have finally been able to get my kayak down and wash the dust off it. I’ve had three fishing trips, each time bringing home some nice eating sized fish. And I’ve fitted in a few bike rides as well and I’m starting to feel a bit fitter. On my bike rides I’ve been jealous of some of the grass I have seen on farms that have had more rain, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles!

JVG kayak sea

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