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Feeding Beet Pulp to Horses

A sugar beet ready for harvestBeet pulp is the fibrous material that remains after most of the sugar is removed from sugar beets. After processing, it has high water content and is prone to mold, so it is dried for storage. Dried beet pulp is available in shredded or pelleted form. It is fed as a digestible fiber supplement to a horse's fiber or forage needs, and dried beet pulp may be incorporated into quality horse feeds as a source of digestible fiber and to significantly lower the sugar and starch content of the feed. Beet pulp is an excellent ingredient for complete horse feeds, where no hay or a limited amount of hay or pasture is fed, such as feeds for older horses or horses with respiratory problems such as heaves. Examples of high quality, beet pulp-based feeds include Triple Crown Senior, Triple Crown Complete, Triple Crown Growth, and Legends Racing. Also, all Triple Crown and Legends Horse Feeds contain added beet pulp.

Table 1 lists the nutrient composition of beet pulp. Beet pulp is an excellent source of highly digestible fiber and has a crude protein content of 7%. Beet pulp has a high level of calcium (over 1%) but very little phosphorus. The digestible energy content of beet pulp is greater than most hay and less than most grain ingredients, making its reputation as a weight building feed supplement well deserved.

You may consider feeding beet pulp if your horse is a "hard keeper" to increase weight gain, if the quality of your hay is poor, or if your horse has problems chewing or digesting baled hay, which is especially common in older horses. Because of beet pulp's high calcium content; don't feed beet pulp to miniature horses due to the increased risk of enterolith formation, and don't feed it to horses diagnosed with kidney disease or renal calculi.

Horses have been fed beet pulp based feeds for many years with no problems. Horses on beet pulp based feeds have suffered no higher incidence of colic. Also, none of the horses "exploded" or had a rupture of the stomach or intestines, which is a common myth of feeding dry beet pulp to horses. Adding beet pulp to a textured feed allows the molasses in the feed, which contains a substantial amount of water, to hydrate the beet pulp and make it palatable and prevent choking. However, if you notice that your beet pulp based feed is dry, which can occur over time, add some water to the feed and re-moisten or rehydrate the beet pulp, which will increase palatability of the feed and reduce the risk of choke.

You should soak dried beet pulp before feeding to horses, it is more palatable and is less likely to cause choke. To properly soak beet pulp, place it in a bucket and add twice as much water as beet pulp by volume. Warm or cold water may be used; using warm water will decrease the soaking time. Allow the beet pulp to soak for at least 30 minutes before feeding if using warm water, and 60 minutes if using cold water. When beet pulp is ready for feeding it will have soaked up all or most of the water, and will have a greatly increased volume and a fluffy consistency.

Draining or rinsing the excess water from beet pulp after soaking it for at least one hour before feeding will significantly reduce the amount of sugar. If you have a horse with metabolic problems (insulin resistance from Metabolic Syndrome or Cushing's Disease), rinsing the beet pulp is especially important to reduce the sugar content.

Table 2 lists the sugar, starch and moisture content of dried shredded plain beet pulp and dried shredded beet pulp with added molasses from samples that were collected and analyzed at a feed testing laboratory. The dried plain shredded beet pulp actually contained more total sugars (ESC and WSC) and had higher moisture content than the dried shredded beet pulp with added molasses. During processing of both types of beet pulp, molasses is added back to the residue as a dust control measure but this is highly variable. If you want to provide the least amount of sugar in your horse's diet from beet pulp, regardless of the type of beet pulp used (with added molasses or plain without added molasses) soak it for at least one hour and rinse the water out of it before feeding.

Most horses will eat soaked beet pulp by itself, but it can also be mixed into your horse's grain ration. As with any addition to the diet, start with a small quantity and gradually increase the amount fed over a period of 7 days.

It is best to make up soaked beet pulp in small batches, just enough for a single feeding. In hot summer months, soaked beet pulp that is left too long without being fed may ferment, which will significantly change its flavor and odor. As with any feedstuff for your horse, if it looks different or smells funny, don't feed it.

Due to beet pulp's relatively high calcium and low phosphorus levels, feeding too much could imbalance the calcium to phosphorus ratio in the diet, which could interfere with normal bone development in young horses. In addition, excessive dietary calcium can increase the risk of renal calculi (kidney stones) in older horses or enteroliths (intestinal stones) in horses of any age.

Dried beet pulp weighs 0.6 pounds per dry US quart, so a 2-quart scoop holds about 1.2 pounds. Some guidelines to follow when adding beet pulp to supplement the regular feeding program (meaning that the horse is already receiving at least 0.5% of its body weight daily of a fortified horse feed) are: 1) feed no more than 2 pounds of dried beet pulp daily to a pony or growing horse less than one year of age, 2) feed no more than 4 pounds of dried beet pulp daily to an immature horse from 1 to 3 years of age, and 3) feed no more than 6 pounds of dried beet pulp daily to a mature horse (body weight of 1,200 pounds).

A feeding rate of 4 pounds of beet pulp daily in addition to the regular ration for a mature horse that was maintaining its present body weight would result in a gain of about ½ pound per day, so you can adjust your feeding program accordingly when adding beet pulp to your horse's diet.

In summary, beet pulp is a good dietary supplement for "hard keepers", as a forage or fiber replacement for poor quality hay, and for older horses with problems chewing or digesting hay. The digestible energy content of beet pulp is greater than hay and less than grain. Consider a beet pulp based feed if you want to add beet pulp to your horse's diet but don't want the added labor or to provide a feed low in sugar and starch. Beet pulp is an excellent source of digestible fiber and is an ingredient in high quality complete and senior horse feeds. Beet pulp based feeds in the Triple Crown and Legends lines are available, and these feeds don't have to be soaked before being fed as the beet pulp is already hydrated. Beet pulp should be soaked before feeding and only enough should be soaked ahead of time for a single feeding. Limit the amount of beet pulp fed due to its high calcium content, to avoid developmental problems in young horses, enteroliths in mature horses and renal calculi in older horses.

Nutrient Composition
Digestible Energy 1,080 kcal/lb
Crude Protein 7.0%
Crude Fat 0.50%
Crude Fiber 18.2%
Calcium 1.09%
Phosphorus 0.07%
Starch + ESC1 12.0%
1ESC = ethanol soluble carbohydrates or simple sugars including glucose and fructose. Starch + ESC content of the diet are responsible for glycemic response (the change in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals) in the horse.

Table 2. Starch, Sugar and Moisture Content of Dried Shredded Plain Beet Pulp and Dried Shredded Beet Pulp with Added Molasses (as-fed basis)

Type Starch ESC1 WSC2 Moisture
Plain Beet Pulp 0.2% 11.8% 19.1% 10.7%
Beet Pulp w/ Added Molasses 0.5% 10.0% 15.7% 9.9%
1ESC = ethanol soluble carbohydrates or simple sugars including glucose and fructose.
2WSC = water soluble carbohydrates or sugars including glucose, fructose and fructans.

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