Transitioning in practice

Dairy cows

For mature dairy cows it is advised to start transition by allocating 1-2 kg DM/day per animal and gradually increase the amount of fodder beet offered by 1 kg DM every 2 days until the desired allocation is reached. This will take 14-21 days depending on the final fodder beet allocation. At the beginning of transition a high proportion of supplement will be required, and this will decrease over the transition period as fodder beet intake increases. Supplement should be fed in the three hours before fodder beet to ensure good gut fill. This will slow the rate of fodder beet intake and minimise gorging.

For the first days of transition fodder beet is often lifted and fed to stock (e.g. on grazed pasture) as it is hard to ensure very low intake levels of all stock when break feeding, because some dominant cows may gorge themselves.

Through this initial stage close monitoring is required. Ensure the stock are eating everything allocated to them, and do not let a bank of uneaten bulbs accumulate in previous breaks. Individual animals transition at different rates, so even with a good transition process rumen acidosis can still occur in some stock. If stock show any signs of acidosis they should be taken straight off the crop. Drenching with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can help increase the rumen pH.

If animals are off the crop for more than 2 days re-transitioning will be required, the speed of which will be determined by how much they were being offered previously.


R2 heifers & steers

For R2 heifers and steers it is advised to start by allocating 1 kg DM/day per animal, and gradually increase allowance as outlined above for mixed aged cows.


R1 heifers & steers

Transition timing for R1 heifers and steers is the same (14-21 days), however feed quantities are halved. It is advised to start by allocating 0.5 kg DM/animal/day on day 1, and then increase by 0.5 kg DM every 2 days until the desired allocation is reached. All R1s should be vaccinated for clostridial diseases (e.g. 5 in 1) before going onto fodder beet.Young growing animals have a higher demand for protein, so this should be fed as a supplement to calves grazing fodder beet (e.g. high quality grass silage).


Young stock

For animals new to fodder beet, particularly younger stock, transitioning may require the bulbs to be chopped or smashed before the stock will try them. This can be done with a Cambridge roller.

Fodder beet is low in fibre (NDF) and crude protein (CP), and high in water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) as shown in the table below. This means there can be a greater requirement for additional fibre and protein in the animals’ diet than when feeding a brassica crop, depending on stock type, age and weight gain expectations.


Feeding supplement

Normally it is best to feed good quality pasture silage as a supplement to stock on fodder beet, as a source of both fibre and CP, rather than supplements with a low CP content (straw, cereal silage), particularly for young growing animals.