I’ve written about beet pulp in the past as a forage alternative in the past, but there are so many misconceptions about this type of feed that I feel it deserves its own post.
Beet pulp is the fiber that remains when sugar is extracted from beets. It is high in fermentable fiber and is easy for horses to digest. When hay is scarce, it is an excellent forage alternative (or supplement) because it adds fiber with relatively few calories.
Lots of people are already feeding beet pulp, but may not know it. Beet pulp is one of the primary ingredients of Purina Strategy, Blue Seal Vintage Victory, Triple Crown Complete, Triple Crown Growth, and Legends 12 Maturity and Racing Formula, for example. But many people choose to feed it separately, as well, and here’s where the questions arise.
True or false?
- Beet pulp should never be fed dry as it will expand when eaten and cause the horse’s stomach to rupture.
- Beet pulp should never be fed dry as it will cause a horse to choke.
- Feeding beet pulp dry will draw moisture from the horse’s blood and intestines and cause dehydration.
- Feeding beet pulp is an excellent way to put weight on a horse.
- Feeding soaked beet pulp helps increase hydration.
- Beet pulp has no nutritional value; it’s just a “filler” feed.
- To soak beet pulp you must add at least twice the amount of water than beet pulp.
- You must soak beet pulp for at least 30 minutes before feeding.
So, how did you do? My answers are based on several research reports and my own experience (having fed beet pulp to three horses).
- False. While beet pulp soaks up water like a sponge, if fed dry it will not expand in a horse’s stomach and cause a rupture or colic. Even if it did expand, a horse’s stomach holds 2-4 gallons. It would take between 4 and 9 pounds of dry beet pulp to fill a horse’s stomach. That’s a lot of beet pulp!
- False in general, but sometimes true. There is no research data that feeding dry beet pulp is any more likely to cause choke than other dry feeds. Pelleted beet pulp is more likely to cause choke than shredded beet pulp, probably because of the pellet size and the horse’s eating behavior. However, dry beet pulp should not be fed to horses that are prone to choke, such as horses that bolt their food and it’s important to always have plenty of water available to all horses when they are eating.
- False. Eating dry beet pulp is not any different than eating any other dry feed.
- True. Beet pulp is effective at putting weight on horses. It has slightly more calories than decent hay, but fewer than oats, so it is a “cool” feed, adding calories without making a horse too hot.
- True. Soaking beet pulp before feeding is an excellent way to increase your horse’s water intake, especially during the winter when horses may not drink enough.
- False. Beet pulp provides more energy than hay and less than grain but it has the advantage of having a low glycemic index which means it provides “cool” calories.
- False. There is no recipe for mixing beet pulp. If you want it feed it wet, you just need to add enough water to cover it and get it to “fluff”.
- False. There is no magic amount of time to soak beet pulp. I generally soak beet pulp for about 15 minutes before feeding and have had no problems. Adding warm water also shortens the soaking time. In the summer, you need to be careful about soaking beet pulp too long, as it can go “off” in the heat.
I currently feed beet pulp to both my horses. I’ve been feeding it because I got a shipment of hay that’s stemmy and dry and which they don’t like that much. I do soak my beet pulp because I find it to be a great way to make sure my horses eat their powdered supplements. I have, in the past, fed it dry with no problem to a mare who was the absolutely slowest eater I’ve every seen. There was no danger of her bolting her food. Plus, I mixed it in with her pelleted food. Eventually, I switched her to Purina Ultium discontinued feeding beet pulp separately.
A few more resources on beet pulp: