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Why sugar beet pulp is an undervalued livestock feed

Sugar beet pulp is an agro-industrial by-product very well-known in Europe. However, this ingredient, with its many variations, has not received the attention it deserves and remains largely a well-kept secret for many successful formulas.

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Sugar beet pulp is an agro-industrial by-product very well-known in Europe. It is a favorite ingredient in dairy feeds because of its high and interesting fiber content and profile. It is also used in pig diets at relatively high amounts, but only in relatively limited concentrations in diets for poultry. In fact, this ingredient, with its many variations, has not received the attention it deserves and remains largely a well-kept secret for many successful formulas.

Primer about prices

When prices for cereals are low, there is very little incentive to use many or even any by-products in animal diets. However, when prices suddenly become extremely high, all kinds of by-products are being tested again in feeds for animals. After understanding their nutritional value and any anti-nutritional factors or handling problems, all alternative ingredients should be evaluated in a least-cost formulation software to establish the maximum price under which they become economical to use. To this end, the services of a qualified nutritionist are recommended before changing formulations. The answer to the question whether an ingredient like sugar beet pulp should be used in feeds when cereal prices are low lies in the interesting profile of the fiber fraction, namely the high concentration in pectins.

Dried sugar beet pulp

Dried beet pulp contains about 8 to 10 percent crude protein, which is roughly comparable to corn and wheat. But, it contains understandably less energy than cereals due to the substantially higher crude fiber content in beet pulp; about 17 percent. It also has a relatively high concentration in ash (minerals), about 7 percent, which further subtracts from its nutritive value. Nevertheless, in low-energy diets, like those used in times of financial difficulties, or for animals fed near their maintenance needs, dried beet pulp can contribute a significant part of nutrients at a better cost, or avoid unnecessary weight gain.

Today, dried beet pulp is available internationally through the services of large commodity trading houses that can deliver shiploads at request.

Today, dried beet pulp is available not only in areas in which sugar refineries exist, but also internationally through the services of large commodity trading houses that can deliver shiploads at request. This highly commercial commodity is usually pelleted to facilitate transportation and storage and requires grinding before using in feeds. Thus, the extra cost of grinding should be taken into consideration when evaluating prices, and that cost should be included in formulation.

Beet pulp is characterized by high water-holding capacity. Thus, when animals consume large quantities of beet pulp, they tend to retain more water in their digestive system. This increased digesta volume then causes the size of the gastrointestinal tube to increase. This, in turn, reduces the carcass yield in market-age pigs, broilers, steers, etc., and reduces feed efficiency because gastrointestinal tissues require high levels of energy (and other nutrients) for maintenance. On the other hand, this same characteristic of water-holding capacity acts as a gastrointestinal laxative, something that is beneficial in breeding animals with limited capacity for free movement.

Beet pulp is not an ingredient of choice for diets that require the presence of functional fibers in order to promote the proliferation of beneficial microflora. To this end, a small amount (less than 5 percent) can be used to provide soluble fiber that could exert a prebiotic effect. Higher amounts are possible, but the resulting dilution of energy usually deprives these sensitive feeds from their energy impact, unless other measures are taken. Extreme levels will cause significant reduction in feed intake, the appearance of enlarged bellies, excessive manure production, and slow growth and overall productivity.

Pressed beet pulp

This is the same product as described above but without having been dried. As such, it is a moist ingredient (about 25 percent dry matter) with 2 percent crude protein and very low energy levels. This ingredient is suited for liquid or wet feeding systems, and it is most beneficial to animal production facilities located near sugar refineries. To the cost of the product paid at the plant, the cost of transportation should be added to arrive at the actual cost of using this moist ingredient in diets. This product is best suited for dairy rations, but pigs can also be made to consume rather large quantities with careful management and design.

Molassed dried beet pulp

Although beet pulp and molasses (two distinct by-products of the same process) are usually sold separately, it is not impossible to find them combined into a single product. This is done to facilitate the use of molasses without having to deal with its handling issues and also as a means for the sugar plants to dispose molasses that cannot otherwise be sold. Depending on the level of molasses incorporation, the final nutritive value and chemical composition of the final product will be intermediate between the two constituent raw materials. As might be expected, molassed sugar beet pulp confers a sweet taste to feeds, something valued by most producers as it can lead to slightly higher feed intake for certain classes of animals.

In brief

This short introduction to sugar beet pulp and its variations should entice nutrition professionals to look deeper into using this ingredient, especially if they are close to a production facility. Likewise, large feed mills should contact a commodity trader to find out if they can locate a batch at favorable prices. Above all, a qualified nutritionist should evaluate the actual product at hand and determine optimum inclusion levels that will safeguard animal performance.

Learn more: 5 things you need to know about functional fibers

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