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beet pulp for horses

Should I feed Beet Pulp to my Horse?

There seem to be a lot of myths about beet pulp doing the rounds on the forums and Facebook pages and groups.  Strangely there are lots of people who are very anti-beet pulp and that is a shame because it is a great feed for horses.

Beet pulp for horses

The Forageplus horses all eat beet pulp as part of their daily feed.  They are very healthy and are perfect examples of horses that have become more robust and resilient the longer time they have been on minerals carefully balanced to the hay, haylage and grass they eat.

It is important to remember that the greatest influence on horses is the grass, hay or haylage they eat in huge amounts every day.  Starting with this and understanding what is contained in this portion of the diet is the most important aspect of getting your horse’s nutrition right.  You can read about this philosophy here.

Fari is 25 this year and was diagnosed with Cushing’s when he was 17.  Beet pulp is an important part of his winter feeding regime to add a fermentable fibre-based feed to his diet to help him maintain weight through the colder months.  Beet pulp also adds important water into his daily diet.  He can sometimes suffer from cold weather dehydration but a bucket of beet pulp at each end of the day keeps him hydrated so his guts remain healthy.

Morris, Smurph and Nupee also have beet pulp added to their diet to act as a slow-release energy source to power them out hacking, in dressage and any other events they might be riding in with Sarah.  The beet pulp is an important source of fibre. It also enables oats to be safely added to their diets as the beet pulp will slow the passage of the oats through the stomach and foregut so that there is no danger of the oats passing into the hindgut.

Here in the UK, you can buy various forms of beet pulp.  Sarah’s preference for her particular horses is Dengie Alfabeet, which supplies a highly palatable, fermentable source of feed that is high in fibre.  It is also a good source of calories and calcium.  As it comes in a handy pellet you can soak it overnight and it is ready to act as a base for anything else you want to mix into it like minerals, linseed or oats.

Fari in the pasture

For a laminitic horse, then rinsing and soaking a pure source of beet pulp will be important. Laminitis horses often cannot tolerate alfalfa so using a pure unmollased beet pulp is a good choice. Rinsing and soaking then rinsing the beet pulp again clean the beet pulp of any residual soil and sugar, lowering both the iron and sugar content to render it safe for laminitis.  Even shreds that are molassed can be rinsed and soaked, then rinsed and soaked again to clean the feed and lower the sugar was the molasses is soluble and will be rinsed off the shreds.

“Beet pulp is a by-product of sugar production but for some reason, there is more negative and inaccurate information floating around on the internet about beet pulp than any equine feed ingredient you can name.

Beet pulp is a by-product of sugar production but for some reason there is more negative and inaccurate information floating around on the internet about beet pulp than any equine feed ingredient you can name.

Beet pulp is the fibrous portion of the sugar beet below ground root which remains after it has been soaked in hot water to remove the sugar. It has a calorie yield similar to oats but because it is fermented like hay does not produce a blood sugar spike like grains do. Even if the pulp has high residual sugar or had molasses added to it, careful thorough rinsing, soaking and rinsing again can remove that to make it safe even for horses with insulin resistance.

Beet pulp can absorb 4 times its dry weight in water, which results in a high volume but low calorie meal and a good way to get extra water and supplements into the horse. It has good protein levels of 9 to 10% and is a good source of calcium. It can help substitute for hay as a fiber source during periods of shortage.

Those are the facts. Here are some of the unsubstantiated claims.

Myth: Beets are treated with a chemical defoliant to kill the top leaves before they are harvested. Completely untrue. The leaves are removed mechanically.

Myth: Beet pulp also contains the leaves and can cause oxalate poisoning. False. There are no leaves in beet pulp and oxalate levels are very low.

Myth: Production of the pulp involves many harsh chemicals. Nope. No chemicals are used in the production of the pulp, which is what remains after hot water soaking of the beet roots. The only chemicals involved are low levels of antimicrobials/biocides to control bacterial growth in the sugar water. The most common is hydrogen sulfide, which is also the biocide used to preserve wines.

Myth: Beet pulp causes hind end weakness and muscle loss. This doesn’t even make any sense. The person claiming this tries to claim it is because oxalate in beet pulp (see above) ties up calcium and causes the horse to not be able to digest/absorb nutrients properly. Again, this is science fiction. Oxalate toxicity is a real thing, but not from beet pulp, and interfering with digestion and absorption is not one of the effects in any case.

Myth: Beet pulp is high in insoluble fiber and poorly digestible. Exactly the opposite is true. It is lower in insoluble fiber than grass/hay, high in soluble fiber and very easily digested in the large intestine by fermentation.

Another criticism, that much beet pulp is now from GMO plants, will be addressed in detail in another blog. For now, I just want to address that glyphosate/Roundup residues in sugar made from GMO beets is zero – undetectable. Levels I have seen for the pulp are also extremely low, less than 1 ppm. This is not surprising considering that glyphosate is water soluble and the beets undergo extensive washing and soaking.

There will always be horses that do not do well on particular feed ingredients but there is no reason to universally condemn beet pulp. It is an excellent diet addition for most horses.

– Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Feeding Beet Pulp to Horses is an Excellent Choice

Our top tip is that feeding beet pulp to horses is an excellent choice for all sorts of reasons and that the choice about whether to feed it should be made based on knowledge rather than what other ‘think’.  We know beet pulp is an excellent feed choice.

Dr Kellon writes a monthly e-zine called the Horse’s Mouth where you can subscribe and read more excellent articles on horse health and the way forage focused, the balanced mineral approach can help your horse maintain optimal health.

Read more of our articles on laminitis prone horses here.

View our full range of products that are suitable for laminitic horses here.

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