John and Donna Dowdle

“Our biggest gain is that the SF Brigadier fodder beet has been so versatile it can be fed to milking cows.”

When large scale dairy farmer John Dowdle established his winter fodder beet crop he never thought he’d be feeding it to cows post calving.

“Our biggest gain is that the SF Brigadier fodder beet has been so versatile it can be fed to milking cows.”

John and Donna Dowdle milk 2200 cows on 650ha in Otahuti just out of Invercargill. Fodder beet is gaining popularity as an important part of dairy cow winter feeding systems and John feeds it to his cows at home and on the winter grazing block he leases just out of Wanaka.

Every May John trucks his animals to Central Otago to feed on the high energy mangle-type fodder beet. He insists on SF Brigadier fodder beet for his cows, which have to ride out often bitterly cold temperatures and frequent snowfalls until they return home in July.

John says SF Brigadier crops consistently and has a high yield. He finds it easier to transition his cows onto compared with other high dry matter beets, and it was an unexpected bonus when he was able to feed it to his milking cows.

“Last year we left the cows at the winter grazing block longer than normal in order to clean up the crop.” It meant he still had fodder beet to graze off at home. Somewhat unexpectedly, and because of fodder beet’s versatility, he was able to graze it off with the milking cows during October and November.

John admits it was a bit of a surprise. Using traditional brassicas meant left over crop used to be a problem, he says. “Once you have no dry cows on the platform you have no one to feed it to. But now with fodder beet we put the cows back on it and we got 2kg MS a day.”

The other benefit of SF Brigadier John’s finding is its palatability to a wide range of stock – from calves to mature cows. For the first time this year John’s 600 replacement heifer calves were grazed on the fodder beet and he was impressed with the way they wintered.

He says it’s amazing to watch them eat the fodder beet bulbs, which sit high above the ground. “They’ll kick it over with their feet or scoop it out with their teeth.” John’s admits to having a nibble on the fodder beet himself. “That’s right! I chewed on a bit and they are very sugary, very sweet.”

John says the fodder beet has massive potential but the key to its successful use is to follow good practice and not cut corners. It has to be sprayed and fertilised, and managed with care.

“It is a wonderful crop and we haven’t got anything that will put weight on the cows like SF Brigadier but it requires careful management. It’s not difficult but it has to be done right and then the same sort of care taken with the feeding and transition. If you do all those it can be very successful.”

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