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by Casie Bazay

Is beet pulp for horses a solid nutrition choice?

Is beet pulp for horses a solid nutrition choice?

Beet pulp is a common ingredient found in manufactured feeds, but many people choose to feed it plain to their horses as well. If you’re considering adding beet pulp to your horse’s diet, you might be wondering what benefits it will provide and also wondering if there might be any drawbacks? Let’s take a closer look. 

What is beet pulp?

Beet pulp is often incorrectly considered a concentrate; however, it is actually a forage, or more accurately, a forage alternative. A byproduct of the sugar beet industry, beet pulp is what remains after the sugar has been removed from the plant. It’s important to note that beet pulp does contain some sugar, but the amount is minimal and therefore, not a concern for horses. When packaged as an equine feed product, molasses is often added to increase palatability, but you can also find unmolassed beet pulp.

A few facts about beet pulp: 

  • It’s high in fiber and calories, but low in protein content (around 8-10% crude protein)
  • It is rich in calcium, low in other minerals, and contains no vitamins
  • As a feed product, you can buy beet pulp pellets or beet pulp shreds for horses

Is beet pulp good for horses?

High in fermentable fiber, beet pulp is digested in the horse’s hindgut via microbial fermentation. Because of this, it is considered a prebiotic: a beneficial food for the microbes within the horse’s hindgut. 

Beet pulp is also considered a good source of “safe” structural carbohydrates because it is so low in sugar content. The unmolassed form is safe to feed to horses with insulin resistance (IR) or polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM). Additionally, beet pulp is lower in potassium than most grass hays, making it a good forage substitute for horses with Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP). 

Beet pulp has a good calcium content--higher than most grass hays but lower than alfalfa. This makes it a great ingredient to feed with traditional grains such as oats that are low in calcium but higher in phosphorus. 

Beet pulp is a useful energy source for many horses such as equine athletes or broodmares, and because beet pulp is high in calories, it is also often used to help horses gain weight or to help hard keepers maintain their weight.

Finally, beet pulp for senior horses can be ideal for those who have trouble chewing or digesting hay. In fact, if you take a look at most senior feeds, you’ll find beet pulp as a leading ingredient.  

Common misconceptions about feeding beet pulp to horses

There are several common misconceptions surrounding beet pulp: one is that it causes choke in horses. The truth is, however, that any feedstuff can cause choke if a horse doesn’t chew it well enough. With beet pulp, the greatest choke risk comes with feeding the pellets dry, as they are large and quite hard. Therefore, soaking is a must if feeding the pelleted form of beet pulp. 

Another misconception is that, if fed dry, beet pulp will swell in the throat or stomach and possibly lead to colic. This is not true either. Beet pulp shreds can be fed soaked or dry; just take a look at many commercial feed tags and you will find beet pulp in them. All are meant to be fed dry. 

How to feed beet pulp

Although beet pulp shreds can be fed soaked or dry, many horse owners choose to soak them to make the product softer (especially for senior horses), to decrease dust, and to increase their horse’s water intake (especially important in cold weather). Just note that shredded beet pulp will swell and absorb water more quickly than pelleted beet pulp. 

Because beet pulp is technically a forage alternative and not a typical forage, it should not be fed at more than 50% of the horse’s overall forage intake. For example, a 1,200 lb horse should consume no more than 12 pounds of beet pulp per day. 

For horses with metabolic issues, if you can’t find unmolassed beet pulp, one option is soaking and rinsing the product before feeding in order to wash off the molasses. Soaked beet pulp usually stays good for about 24 hours, but in hot, humid climates, it may go bad. Never feed soaked beet pulp that smells “off.” 

If feeding beet pulp with a grain like oats, keep in mind that you will still need to provide a vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that your horse is getting adequate trace minerals and necessary vitamins. To further support your horse’s gut health, consider feeding a high-quality probiotic supplement as well. 

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