You’ve heard of it, perhaps you even keep a bag on hand. Or maybe it’s already a regular part of your horse’s diet. But whatever the case may be, beet pulp, a lowly sugar industry byproduct turned equine feed, is a dietary option worth considering for your horse’s health and wellbeing.
Popular around the country and the world, beet pulp is high in digestible fiber and is a good source of “safe” structural carbohydrate‐calories. However, there are also many myths and misunderstandings about beet pulp. As a result, this very versatile feed is often avoided, relied upon too heavily, or used incorrectly in many horses’ diets.
Here are five facts about beet pulp that will help you get the most out of this economical, incredibly versatile feed:
- Despite what you may have heard, equine nutrition experts are unified in their assurance: beet pulp in any form does not have to be soaked prior to feeding. Yes, it does expand when wet, but not enough to cause your horse’s stomach to explode (or even come close!) or cause colic. There is also no evidence to suggest that dry beet pulp increases the risk of choke. Horses choke not because of what they eat, but because of how they eat it. However, soaking your beet pulp does have the added benefit of adding more water into your horse’s system, so by all means, soak away!
- BP provides a type of fiber that offers unique nutritional benefits. Beet pulp provides more digestible fiber than is found in hay. This means that the fiber is processed faster and will provide a good source of quickly available energy. Because of this difference in fiber type, beet pulp can be a great option for equine athletes, brood mares, and seniors. In fact, many senior “complete feeds” are beet pulp based. The fiber in beet pulp also promotes healthy gut flora. A little “pulp” in every diet can help keep the population of fiber‐digesting bacteria in the gut balanced so changes in diet won’t be as disruptive.
- BP contains very little sugar. It may come from sugar beets, but it is very, very low in sugar. By the time beet pulp makes it to the feed store, all the sugar has been extracted. That said, beware of what is added back in. Some beet pulp has molasses added to increase palatability, so if sugar content is a concern (Cushing’s, insulin‐ resistance, HYPP or other sugar sensitivities), look for “plain” beet pulp. If you can’t find the plain, just give your beet pulp a good soaking. Once it’s done, squeeze it and drain off the water – all the molasses will run off and you’ll be left with the plain, sugar‐free beet pulp.
- Beet pulp can help you stretch your hay supply. Beet pulp can partially take the place of hay, helping you stretch your hay supply if you are running low. So how do you know how much to feed? It’s easy: for every pound of forage you take out of the diet, add a pound of beet pulp. However, there is a limit to how much substitution can be done safely. Although hay and beet pulp have similar fiber content, the vitamin and mineral content is quite different. Feeding too much beet pulp instead of hay can lead to nutritional imbalances. The general limit for feeding beet pulp is no more than 10% of a horse’s diet by weight or no more than 2‐3 lbs. per day for the average horse. BUT… there are always exceptions. If you have an older horse that cannot eat hay any longer, the rules go out the window. For these senior sorts, you must do what you can. Soaked beet pulp plus a complete senior feed may do the trick.
- Finally, if you are thinking of adding beet pulp to diet, check to be sure it isn’t in there already. Beet pulp is commonly found in many high‐fiber, low sugar feeds and senior feeds.
Beet Pulp Pro Tips:
So how the heck do I soak this stuff?
Beet pulp soaking is a simple if inexact science. A good starting point is a 1 to 1 beet pulp to water ratio, but the exact amount will depend on the type (shredded or pelleted) and how soupy you want it.
And how long do I soak it?
Quick answer: it depends. Beet pulp in hot water will soak faster than in cold. A little experimentation will quickly give you the perfect answer for your conditions!
How soon after soaking do I need to feed it?
Yes, soaked beet pulp can and does go bad. A good rule of thumb is to feed soaked beet pulp no later than 12 hours post‐soaking. However, during hot, humid weather, you may need to feed even faster, possibly within 2 hours. Otherwise, may begin to ferment.