Beet Pulp – an Alternative Dietary Energy Source for Horses
Horse owners with “hard keepers” are commonly told to add beet pulp to daily rations to put weight onto their skinny horses. Why would feeding beet pulp, an innocuous looking feedstuff, add equine pounds? Wouldn’t a high energy cereal grain mix like COB (corn-oats-barley) be a better choice to improve weight gain in horses?
Beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar industry and can be found in either shredded or pelleted forms. After the sugar is extracted from beets, the remaining pulp is further pressed and dried for use as animal feed. Nearly all of the sugar is removed during the extraction process and what remains is a highly digestible form of fiber with an energy content between hays and grains (see Table 1).
Since 30 – 70% of a horse’s daily digestible energy requirements can be met by fiber, beet pulp is an important dietary energy source.
While the energy content of beet pulp is similar to cereal grains, it is a safer energy source, especially for horses that are sensitive to dietary sugar levels. Because energy is released slowly, beet pulp is often recommended for hot, excitable horses, or horses prone to laminitis. In addition, the high fiber content of beet pulp helps maintain digestive tract health and also reduces the likelihood of grain overload.
Many horse owners believe that beet pulp must be soaked in water to feed it safely to horses. Contrary to popular belief, horses will not suffer from colic or choke after eating non-soaked beet pulp. However, soaking it in water prior to feeding may increase its palatability. Beet pulp can be soaked in warm (not hot) water for several hours before feeding time. It isn’t necessary to soak it overnight. Prepare the soaked beet pulp in small batches that will be used up at feeding time. This is especially true when the outside temperature is warm because beet pulp will readily ferment in the bucket, which will change its odor and flavor.
Beet pulp is a beneficial ingredient in many horse diets. Consumption of beet pulp may increase water intake and act as a “sponge”, creating a reservoir of water and electrolytes in the equine hindgut, which may prevent dehydration in performance horses during strenuous exercise. Furthermore, beet pulp can be used as a supplement in diets of horses with dental problems that would otherwise be unable to consume enough fiber as hay. Since beet pulp is easily digestible, it is an excellent addition to the diets of horses that are recovering from surgery or illness.
Beet pulp is a good feed choice to add pounds to a skinny horse because the highly digestible fiber is transformed into a rich energy source in the equine digestive system. While grain mixes such as COB provide necessary energy, beet pulp may be a more desirable source of energy for horses that tend to be hot or are sensitive to dietary sugars. Beet pulp is low in vitamins and phosphorus, but contains a lot of calcium. Nutritional unbalances would occur if it were fed as the sole source of fiber in equine diets. Therefore, beet pulp should be used only as a supplemental fiber and energy source in equine diets.
Brown-Douglas, C. 2011. Beet pulp: The ultimate fibre for horses. Equinews. Kentucky Equine Research. http://www.equinews.com/article/beet-pulp-ultimate-fibre-horses