Beet Pulp: A Super Hero of Fibers
Beet pulp is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry. It consists of the pulp that remains after all the sugar has been removed from the sugar beet plant. Because it is low in lignin, a structural fiber that is hard for horses to digest; it is easily fermented (broken down) by the microflora in a horse’s hindgut. Beet pulp contributes readily available energy to both the microflora and the horse. This beneficial effect supports a healthy digestive tract and supplies a safe source of energy to the horse.
Beet pulp to the rescue
Beet pulp is an excellent fiber supplement or substitute and it can be incorporated into the diet for a variety of reasons. It is affordable, easy to feed, and well liked by most horses. It comes mixed with molasses or molasses-free.
Beet pulp is often used as an additional fiber and energy source when low-quality hays are fed. It is a wonderful fiber for horses that have age- or injury-related tooth loss since it is easy to chew after being soaked in water. Because it is readily digested in the hindgut, it is a good choice for convalescing horses or those recovering from surgery.
Owners of easy keepers can mix their horse’s supplements in a couple cups of soaked molasses-free beet pulp instead of feeding high-calorie grains. Horses that require low starch/sugar diets benefit from beet pulp’s high fiber and low sugar levels. Molasses-free beet pulp has a low glycemic index and causes a minimal insulin response.
Hard keepers can also benefit from beet pulp when it is fed along with high-quality hay. It contributes more digestible energy for weight gain and work than alfalfa hay, and just a little less than oats. Its beneficial effects on the microflora in the gut improve digestive health and have a positive impact on the digestibility of the entire diet.
Soaking beet pulp prior to feeding increases water as well as fiber intake, which contributes to the essential fluid reservoir contained in the horse’s digestive tract. Adequate fluid balance is essential to ward off dehydration, colic and electrolyte depletion.
Every super hero has a weakness
Beet pulp is an excellent source of energy and fiber but nutritionally it is lacking in some important areas. It is very low in vitamins and selenium. It contains high levels of calcium, but is very low in phosphorus. While it contains some protein, beet pulp is not a good source of lysine that is essential for growing horses. If fed in large amounts (over 3 lbs per day) without proper supplementation, it can cause significant imbalances in the diet.
Beet pulp with added molasses will contain high levels of sugar and potassium and therefore is a poor choice for horses suffering from HYPP or insulin resistance. However, keep in mind that beet pulp without molasses added does not cause these problems.
Beet pulp nutritional value at a glance
Digestible energy: 1.3 Mcal/lb to 1.5 Mcal/ lb
(this falls between alfalfa hay and oats)
Fiber: an average of 15%
NSC: average of 5% (plain beet pulp without molasses)
Protein: 8% to 10 %
(not a good source of lysine)
Vitamins: very low levels
Minerals: high in calcium, low in phosphorus and selenium
(Ca:P ratio = 10:1)
Beet pulp feeding recommendations
Beet pulp can be incorporated into the diet at a rate of ½ to 3 lbs per day, depending on the horse’s needs. As with all feeds, it is healthiest to offer several small meals per day.
While amounts above 3 lbs per day can be fed, they would require the ration to be properly balanced for vitamins and minerals. Growing horses may require additional lysine. Nutritional research has have shown that it is safe to feed up to 45% of the total ration as beet pulp as long as the ration is properly balanced.
When replacing hay with beet pulp, do so in roughly equal amounts. Calorie-wise, one pound of beet pulp can replace 1 to 1.5 lbs of hay, depending on the quality of the hay. Research has shown that it is best to always provide some long-stem forage (hay or pasture) in the diet.
Beet pulp can be fed dry or soaked. It is a myth that beet pulp has to be soaked; however, it is easier to chew when rehydrated. When soaking beet pulp, add 2 times as much water as beet pulp and let it sit. It will take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours for the beet pulp to absorb all the water. Beet pulp soaked in warm water will absorb moisture faster than that soaked in cold water. Do not use hot water as it can cause a decrease in nutrient value.
You can tell when beet pulp is ready to feed when it becomes fluffy, light and soft. Drain off excess water, if desired. If you are adding supplements to your beet pulp, mix them in right before feeding to protect the vitamins from degrading.
It is best to use freshly soaked beet pulp whenever possible. Soaked beet pulp remains good for about 12 hours in cool weather. In warm conditions it can ferment and mold if left sitting for extended periods of time.