I like it when people comment on my posts. Sometimes they agree; others have challenged what I’ve found and caused me to do more research. A question from a reader prompted me to look into whether feeding whole flax seed was indeed a good idea and resulted in, Update on Feeding Flax Seed.
So, when I received this comment on Beet Pulp: Fact & Fiction, I thought it deserved to be answered.
I felt I had to add a post because I do not agree with it. First of all I and my family have been breeding, racing and competing horses for generations. I would never recommend or use beet pulp one of the reasons why is because of the process it goes through. When seperating (sic) the sugar from the pulp chemicals and bleaches are used ie. it is the whitening process, and the left over scrap is the pulp. I love my horses and I would never feed them this. I give my horses natural products that are not GM and no chemicals thank you. Alfalfa pellets/bales, Carob, Hay, and fruit treats are a great way to feed your horses naturally! There is also very little nutritional value in Beet and it is only a filler. If you cannot afford to buy the right natural products for your horse then you should not have a horse. I have never had a problem with any of my horses, and they also keep their teeth to a good old age.
I’ve seen some of this before . . . especially the “just a filler” argument. To be honest, I’d never thought about whether processing the beet pulp left a chemical residue. So, I started to do some research. I think I found where this person got their information.
In my search I came across another condemnation of beet pulp from Lorrie Bracaloni. Readers might remember that I recently reviewed her DVD and Workbook “How to Identify and Release your Horse’s Pain Points.” Her article is entitled, Is Beet Pulp Toxic to Horses? The Real Story. In it, she re-iterates the issue about pesticides but adds some additional claims that make beet pulp look like the absolute worst feed possible.
In this article she writes:
Beet pulp originates from sugar industry. It is an insoluble fiber, meaning that it does not interact with the body. It rushes through the intestines taking with it whatever supplements have been given. Simply put, it cannot be digested. It takes four molecules of water for the body to process beet pulp-adding water weight, and making the horse appear heavier. Once beet pulp is removed from the diet, the horse loses weight quickly, leading the owner to believe that the horse needs the beet pulp.
Like many other crops, sugar beets are treated with an extensive array of herbicides to limit weeds and grasses in the fields. The herbicides are absorbed by the beets. Nothing removes the chemicals from the pulp. In addition, growers top the beet plants with a chemical defoliant to kill back the tops before harvest. These chemicals also end up by-product beet pulp.
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, DMV, says that beet pulp is safe; it is washed with water to remove the solvents. However, the water only removes what is on the outside. The soaking process removes the sugar from the outside, but not the chemicals. Toxins are stored in the pulp not the juice.
NOTE: I cannot find any statement by Dr. Eleanor Kellon about toxins in beet pulp. In fact, she recommends beet pulp for insulin-resistant horses. Bracaloni goes on to say:
Often, if the horse is unable to digest the beet pulp. Their hind-ends “shut down” and become weak. The common complaint being, “my horse has a weak hind-end.”
Case in Kentucky – A lady emailed me about her paint that had been seen by vets, chiropractors, etc. to no avail her paint was weak from behind, bad stifles? He was 4yrs old they said arthritis, I said what are you feeding? Turns out she was feeding a product that was mostly beet pulp and rice bran. She took the paint off the feed, then sent a email stating her horse was moving much better and was able to ride him again.
A reputable event trainer, Katie Worley from Rock Solid Training Center, asked me to check her horses. I found was they were all weak in the hind-end, and Katie agreed. After looking at a tag from her feed, we found beet pulp listed as the third ingredient. After Katie took her horses off the beet pulp feed, she called to say they were using their hind-ends, and were much stronger.
At the end of this article she suggests that owners take their horses off any beet pulp if their horses show any of the following symptoms: weak hind ends, brittle hooves, weak stifles, lack of energy, a dull coat or loose stools.
Okay, I’ve heard the argument that horses are not able to digest beet pulp. What’s new to me is that beet pulp strips the gut of supplements; causes horses to appear to gain weight by causing them to retain water; causes your horse to become weak in the hind end or stifles; and may be the source of brittle hooves, lack of energy a dull coat and loose stools. The suggestion that beet pulp could cause hind end or stifle weakness to me is the most fantastical. How could a feed cause such an effect?
And, more to the point, why should we believe what she wrote? In her own words, Ms. Bracolini is “a holistic practitioner with more than 12 years of experience who assisted more than 100 horse owners with equine diets and nutrition.” There is plenty of data out there from scientifically robust sources that disputes these claims and they fly in the face of what’s been written by nutritionists and equine vets.
Now, I’m not saying that anyone must feed their horse beet pulp. Plenty of horses live their lives without a shred of beet pulp passing their lips with no problems. But are horse owners hurting their horses by feeding it? If that’s the case, then many of the big feed companies are doing us a disservice since beet pulp features prominently among the ingredients of many feeds.
Let’s look at the claims
The article written by Ms. Bracolini has been seeded throughout the Internet and it’s the source of some lively debates in several of the forums. On http://www.AmericanPasoFinos.com I found that one of the participants had sent the article to Dr. Susan Garlinghouse, an equine vet who has specialized in nutrition. Dr. Garlinghouse’s response was as follows (the original is posted here):
- The fiber in beet pulp is not even close to “indigestible”—the only fiber found in forage that *is* totally indigestible is lignin, which is almost non-existent in beet pulp, but considerably higher (it varies) in the hay pellets whats-her-name recommends. And even being indigestible doesn’t necessarily make it bad, just affects GI transit time, etc differently than fermentable fibers. The fiber in beet pulp is primarily pectin, a soluble fiber, which is highly fermentable and digestible. Apparently, no understanding by the author of how digestive physiology works here.
- The whole water weight argument is just total nonsense. Having a good reservoir of water in the hindgut is generally considered a good thing in performance horses and if all that water were just “rushing” through, the horse would have projectile diarrhea. Not loose stools. Projectile. One of the primary benefits of feeding beet pulp to performance horses is that there *is* more of a water reservoir in the hindgut. Doesn’t adversely affect absorption of anything else. I could go into a long dissertation of soluble fibers fermenting to primarily butyric acid, which in turn is the preferred substrate of enterocytes, thus optimizing a higher turnover (that’s a good thing), which then in turn optimizes absorption, water and electrolyte balance in the hindgut, but that’s way too long for this reply. And none of it is classified material. Find a qualified nutrition text and use that as an information source, not this twaddle.
- “Does your horse have loose stools” – Most people that feed alfalfa think that the ideal consistency to horse poop is a tight, dry little road apple.You don’t want diarrhea, but same as for other species, a softer consistency is not necessarily a symptom of disease. It’s usually a lot better than overly dry. Horses on pasture and on grass hays (and also beet pulp) often have a bit of a splat to their poop, which is highly fine-by-me.
- Sugar beets don’t “store” pesticides in the pulp. If they did, it wouldn’t be very effective in eliminating bugs on the outside of the plant,would it? I’ve seen the tox assay reports on beet pulp and the results were pretty much nil. I also ran my own on beets straight from the field and hosed off in my driveway–also nil. Also, shredded beet pulp gets tossed into a water bath and the water with soluble sugars (which is the cash crop here) is removed and dried to the table sugar end product. If there were residues, it’s more likely they’d be present in higher concentrations in the table sugar. It’s not. When whats-her-name can produce real data, we’ll talk. Until then, it’s apparent she’s not even familiar with the manufacturing process, let alone any inherent shortfalls.
- All that gibberish about “does your horse have brittle feet, weak in the hindquarters, yada yada” makes no logical point or argument. She makes claims of horses that had health problems that were being fed beet pulp, she totally changed their diets, their condition allegedly improved and therefore it was the beet pulp that caused the initial problem, not anything else having to do with its ration or management. Pretty shaky logic. It’s a lot like saying that there are pigeons in cities, and crime in cities, therefore pigeons cause urban crime. Sorry, there’s just no logical thought process here, no science or scientific background, no qualified views. But, everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if those opinions aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Susan Garlinghouse, DVM (no certifications, just university degrees)
For the record, Dr. Garlinghouse has long been a proponent of feeding beet pulp to horses and is quoted on many of the endurance sites on its benefits. Her assessment of the nutritional value of beet pulp can be found in this article on her website, The Myths and Realities of Beet Pulp.
I did an Internet search on residual pesticides in beet pulp and found a 1971 study conducted by the World Health Organization. The finding for sugar beets was:
Shuttleworth et al. (1971) studied the effects of sugar beet processing to determine if endosulfan or endosulfan sulfate residues in sugar beet roots would concentrate in the processed beet pulp. Mature sugar beet root samples from a plot treated with three aerial applications of Thiodan 2 EC at 1.0 lb active/acre were analysed 0 and 35 days after the last application. No endosulfan or endosulfan sulfate residues were found at the limit of sensitivity of the method of 0.05 ppm. Sugar beet pulp, obtained from processing the above.
I also found information on beet pulp in the document Horse Feeding Myths and Misconceptions, by Lori K. Warren, Ph.D, P.A.S, Provincial Horse Specialist, Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development). In her article she states that:
Recent research has shown that the fibre in beet pulp is easier to digest than the fibre in hays. In fact, horses may derive as much energy from beet pulp as they do from oats (Table 4). In other words, a pound of (dry) beet pulp has almost the same amount of calories as a pound of oats. Because beet pulp provides these calories as fibre (as opposed to the starch in grains), it can be safely fed in larger amounts without the risk of colic or laminitis associated with feeding a large amount of grain. Furthermore, the protein content of beet pulp (averaging 8 to 12%) is comparable to most grains and good-quality grass hays (Table 4). And, beet pulp also provides a reasonable source of calcium, intermediate between the high calcium in alfalfa and the lower calcium content of grass hays, but much higher than grains (Table 4).
Whether used as a source of forage or as a replacement for oats, beet pulp is a useful addition to the diet of many types of horses. Beet pulp has been successfully fed at levels up to 50% of the horse’s total ration (approximately 10 lbs for a 1000 lb horse). More commonly, owners choose to feed 2 to 5 lbs of beet pulp per day. The high digestibility of beet pulp makes it a good choice for horses that are “hard keepers” (it’s very good for encouraging weight gain), as well as horses with dental problems, or older horses who have trouble chewing or digesting other types of forage. Beet pulp is also used as a grain replacement in the diets of horses that suffer from tying up (providing calories as fibre rather than starch). And the low potassium content of beet pulp makes it an ideal forage replacement for horses with HYPP. Finally, endurance riders favour beet pulp because its high water holding capacity provides the horse with a larger reservoir of fluid in the digestive tract that can be used to help prevent dehydration.
*Please note these are average nutrient values and are presented on a 100% dry matter basis.
After reviewing this information I’m going to continue feeding beet pulp. Yes, I do love my horse and I would never feed him something that I thought would be harmful. I’m convinced by the data I’ve found that beet pulp is a natural feed that offers many advantages, especially if you are working to minimize the amount of grain you feed your horse.
Researching this topic has also reinforced to me how important it is to consider the sources of the information you read on the Internet. There are lots of opinions out there — but they are not all informed.
If I just wanted to go with anecdotal evidence, hey, I’d use the fact that Elmer Bandit, the 38-year old competitive trail horse has been eating beet pulp for years (Caring for older horses: the Elmer Bandit diet). If it’s keeping him going, it can’t be all bad.