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Feeding Beet Pulp to Horses

Beet pulp is the fibrous material that remains after most of the sugar is removed from sugar beets. After processing it has a 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 an easily digestible supplement to a horse’s roughage intake, or beet pulp may be incorporated into quality horse feeds as a source of digestible fiber. 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 12 Maturity and Racing Formula.

Table 1 lists the nutrient composition of beet pulp. It is an excellent source of highly digestible fiber and has a relatively low protein content (8 to 10%). Beet pulp has a relatively high calcium content but contains very little phosphorus. The digestible energy content of beet pulp is greater than hay and less than grain, making it’s 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 other types of roughage, which is especially common in older horses.

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 beet pulp feeds. 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.

You should soak 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. Warm or cold water may be used; using warm water will decrease the soaking time. Allow the beet pulp to soak for 30 minutes before feeding. When beet pulp is ready for feeding it will have soaked up all or most of the water, it will have a greatly increased volume, and it will have a fluffy consistency.

Drain the excess water from beet pulp before feeding, this will significantly reduce the amount of sugar remaining in it. If you have a horse with metabolic problems (insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or Cushing’s Disease), draining water is especially important to reduce the sugar content if beet pulp is fed. Also, it won’t matter if beet pulp with or without added molasses is used, because any soluble sugar will be removed when the water is drained from the beet pulp before it is fed.

Most horses will eat 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, 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 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.

In summary, beet pulp is a good dietary supplement for “hard keepers”, as a roughage replacement for poor quality hay, and for older horses with problems chewing or digesting roughage. 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. 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.

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