Beet Pulp: Facts & Myths

You hear about owners feeding beet pulp to their underweight, aging, or “hard keeper” horses. You see fellow boarders at the barn scooping it into buckets for soaking. But what is this stuff, and does your horse need it? Below are 11 commonly asked questions about this byproduct of the sugar beet industry that has long been a part of equine feed regimens.

1. What does beet pulp do for a horse?

Beet pulp is a low-cost, highly digestible form of fiber (greater than or equal to that of most hays) that offers many nutritional benefits for horses. The microbes in the horse’s hindgut can easily ferment and use it for energy production. It is a great source of fiber for hind gut health an calories for added body condition or fuel for performance. The fiber also absorbs and holds water well, making soaked beet pulp an efficient way to increase a horse’s water consumption.

2. What types of horses might benefit from consuming beet pulp?

Beet pulp can be incorporated in the diets of horses with many different needs.
– A fiber source for hoses with poor teeth because it is easier to chew than long-stem hay
– A forage extender during hay shortages
– A digestive health aid for horses experiencing digestive upset
– A method of adding body condition to a hard keeper
– A good feed ingredient for horses sensitive to sugar or starch

3. How do you know what amount of beet pulp to feed? How much can I substitute for other feedstuffs?

The amount you feed depends on its purpose to the horse’s diet. Researchers have safely fed up to 55% of a horse’s total ration in beet pulp – approximately 12 pounds! Care should be taken when feeding more than 2-3 pounds/day so that the overall nutrient balance of the diet is not disrupted due to some of beet pulp’s nutritional deficits. Regardless of the amount, always weigh it first and introduce it into the diet slowly.

4. Does it matter whether you feed shredded or pelleted beet pulp?

The 2 forms of beet pulp on the market are shredded and pelleted. Both forms are safe for horses, but the shreds tend to soak up water faster than pellets. Molasses content may be a decisive factor in choosing the form of beet pulp to feed, especially with horses needing low sugar or low potassium diets.

5. Must beet pulp be mixed with other feeds?

Beet pulp can be treated as any other forage ingredient. It can be fed alone or along with the grain ration, depending on what makes the most sense for a particular horse and management situation.

6. What if I’m trying to add beet pulp to my horse’s diet and he doesn’t want to eat it?

If your horse is a picky eater, you can soak his beet pulp or mix it dry with his grain or with a small amount of oil. Adding molasses to dried beet pulp shreds increases the palatability and helps to stimulate saliva production when the horse consumes it.

7. Why do some people soak beet pulp? What’s the best approach?

There is a long standing myth that beet pulp must be soaked prior to feeding to prevent choke. However, horses can choke on any type or form of feed if they eat too fast – beet pulp itself will not cause a horse to choke. Many feed companies include beet pulp in many grain formulations that do not require soaking prior to consumption. Some people are more inclined to soak beet pulp to reduce the risk of choke and improve the feedstuff’s palatability. It is also best to soak it if more than 1-2 pounds are fed in a meal. The amount of water to add and length of time to soak beet pulp is dependent on several factors – some horses prefer less water, while some like it soupy. Measure your mixture at a ratio of 2 parts cool or warm water to 1 part beet pulp. Soak it until it absorbs the liquid, usually from 15 minutes to a few hours. Remember, shreds soak faster than pellets.

8. What’s the best way to tell if soaked beet pulp is spoiled?

That is dependent on the environmental conditions and amount being soaked, and the best method to determine this is by smell. Throw it away any moldy, fermented, or sour-smelling beet pulp.

9. What are the best ways to work with soaked beet pulp during cold and hot temperature extremes?

The first solution is not to store the soaked beet pulp container on the ground, which Is where the coldest temperatures are found. Also, the pulp absorbs warm water more quickly than cold, so If possible add warm water to reduce the chance of freezing. In summer months, soak and store beet pulp in a cool, dry location.

10. Are there any negative effects to feeding beet pulp?

Beet pulp may not be the best choice to add to your horse’s feed during the following situations.
– HYPP horses: high levels of potassium if it contains molasses
– Insulin resistance: high nonstructural carbohydrate levels if it contains molasses
– choke: increased risk when fed dry and in large amounts
– nutrient imbalances: when feeding large amounts of plain beet pulp without adjusting the rest of the diet accordingly

11. Do I need to balance beet pulp with other cereal grains?

Beet pulp falls short in several areas as a “standalone” feed. It contains 10% crude protein which should be taken into consideration when feeding young, growing horses when specific amino acids are required for proper growth and development. Also, its calcium to phosphorus ratio is 10:1 (the recommended ration is 2:1). You also need to add a source of phosphorus if you feed beet pulp along with legume hay (such as alfalfa) which has a higher calcium content than grass forages. Finally, beet pulp is a poor source of trace minerals and contains low levels of antioxidant vitamins A and E.

Modified from TheHorse magazine article by Alexandra Beckstett