The Skinny On Beet Pulp As An Equine Feed

Fifty years ago, many knowledgeable horsemen would find it difficult to identify beet pulp or its potential value as a feedstuff for horses. Though its usefulness is now cemented among horse owners, beet pulp can still cause some confusion. Dr. Kathleen Crandell, a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research, answers eight questions about beet pulp and its role in equine nutrition.

In what types of feeds was beet pulp first used?

Sugar beet pulp first found a use in commercial horse feeds in the racehorse products as a low-dust feedstuff because it was mixed with lots of molasses and felt moist. This proved beneficial for the respiratory tract and was thought to be somehow beneficial in preventing bleeding, though this notion was quickly abandoned.

Beet pulp was also integrated into senior feeds because of the need for a high-fiber feedstuff that could be ground and incorporated into a pellet. The new generation of high-fiber, low-starch feeds that emerged in the late 1990s was an obvious end-use for such an excellent fiber source. Now, beet pulp is prevalent in feeds designed for all classes of horses.

What are the differences between beet pulp and cereal grains as energy sources?

Horses derive the majority of the energy (calories) in cereal grains from the enzymatic digestion of starch that is absorbed in the bloodstream in the form of glucose. On the other hand, horses derive the majority of the energy in beet pulp from the microbial fermentation of the fiber content, which is absorbed as volatile fatty acids, also known as short-chain fatty acids.

What are the advantages of feeding beet pulp as part of a diet?

Compared to other fiber sources like hay, beet pulp has much more digestible fiber. For example, the digestible fiber in hay is around 40 percent, while beet pulp has closer to 80 percent digestible fiber. The more digestible the fiber, the more calories that feedstuff provides the horse.

Further, beet pulp mixes well into a textured feed and can be pelleted easily. Plus, soaking beet pulp is a way to get more water into the horse.

How does beet pulp stack up to hay as a source of fiber?

The type of fiber found in beet pulp, considered “rapidly fermentable fiber,” is much more readily fermented by the microbes in the hindgut than the fiber in hay or typical forage sources. Hay consists mostly of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. While lignin is completely indigestible, cellulose and hemicellulose vary in digestibility depending on the maturity of the plant.

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Beet pulp provides energy, but does it add appreciable amounts of other nutrients?

Beet pulp has higher amounts of calcium than grains, about the level found in typical commercial concentrates. In addition, beet pulp is comparatively high in iron.

Should beet pulp be fed soaked or unsoaked when fed by itself or as part of home-mixed concentrate? 

If feeding beet pulp shreds, they can be fed dry, especially if mixed with other feedstuffs. Free-choice water availability is important if feeding dry beet pulp. Pelleted beet pulp, however, should not be fed dry because it may increase the likelihood of choke. Horses prefer to consume beet pulp shreds soaked rather than dry shreds, probably because it softens their texture. My preference is to feed beet pulp soaked.

Further, one of the advantages of feeding soaked beet pulp is that it is a way to sneak a bit of water into the diet, especially in the winter when water consumption may be down. The Europeans have come up with a method of micronizing and then flaking the pulp so that it soaks quickly, in less than 10 minutes.

Are there any special uses for beet pulp?

Soaked beet pulp is a useful vehicle for holding larger amounts of oil, which is often recommended as a way to get more calories in the horse.

It was thought for a while that soaked beet pulp could help to push sand out of the digestive tract, but research found it ineffective in prevention of sand colic.

Is beet pulp use in the U.S. different than in other areas of the world?

Beet pulp has worked its way into quite a number of commercial feeds in the U.S. Many horse owners feed soaked beet pulp in addition their regular feed.

As the history of beet pulp would suggest, its use is more longstanding in areas such as England, Northern Europe, and Russia, where much sugar beet is cultivated. Because of the climate needed for sugar beet cultivation, South America had very limited sugar beet production, as was the case in Australia and Africa. However, cultivation is expanding to newer areas because of a variety that can be grown in the warmer climates as a winter crop, instead of a summer crop as it is in more temperate climates.  Where beet pulp is not grown, it may be imported and therefore rather expensive.

Are you interested in how beet pulp became a feedstuff for horses? Learn more at Beet Pulp in Horse Feeds: A Brief History.

Could beet pulp be an appropriate feedstuff for your horse? Contact a Kentucky Equine Research nutrition advisor today.

Article reprinted courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Visit for the latest in equine nutrition and management, and subscribe to The Weekly Feed to receive these articles directly (   

The post The Skinny On Beet Pulp As An Equine Feed appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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