There are multiple benefits of feeding beet pulp to horses. For example, beet pulp is an excellent source of highly digestible fiber for many horses, which is why many horse owners will feed it directly to their animals and feed companies often use beet pulp in their feed formulations. However, horse owners should be fully informed on not only the positives, but potential negative consequences when feeding beet pulp to their horses.

Nutrients in Beet Pulp

It is important to remember that even though beet pulp is the by-product of the sugar beet industry, it is usually very low in sugar because almost all the sugar (>90%) is removed from the plant and the beet pulp is what remains. However, it is not uncommon for some beet pulp to be sweetened with molasses to make it more palatable to horses, with the added benefit of reducing dust. Thus, molasses-added beet pulp has a higher sugar content and is mostly avoided, especially for horses suffering from metabolic disorders.

It is also important to note that beet pulp is not a substitute for a horse feed, rather it is an additional source of fiber/forage for horses. Beet pulp is beneficial to your horse as a source of highly digestible fiber. This means that beet pulp fiber, when digested in the hindgut of the horse, will provide more energy and is more beneficial to hindgut microbes. Other nutritional factors of beet pulp include:

  • Lower in protein, at ~8 to 10%.
  • Low fat, at less than 1%.
  • Lower in non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) at 8 - 12%.
  • Higher in calcium (~0.9% of DM) and low in phosphorus (~0.09%), which is an unideal 10:1 ratio.
  • Usually devoid of any vitamins, or at very minimal values.

All in all, beet pulp is a great source of fiber, yet is absent in many critical nutrients that horses need.

Advantages to Feeding Beet Pulp to Horses

As stated, beet pulp is an excellent source of fiber for horses and is why many choose to add it to their horse’s diet.

The good news is that beet pulp is considered a safer and slower-burning energy source, rather than a quick energy source, like those found with many cereal grains. This is due to the hindgut microbes having an easier time converting the beet pulp fiber to the all-important volatile fatty acids (VFA). These VFAs are absorbed and then converted to energy before being used by the horse. This is also why beet pulp is considered a prebiotic for horses. It helps feed the fiber-digesting bacteria in the horse’s hindgut.

Will Feeding Beet Pulp Help My Horse Gain Weight?

One of the common reasons that beet pulp is added to a horse’s diet is in an attempt to help the horse gain weight. In some cases, it may help, but often the results to this approach are lackluster. The reason for this is that although beet pulp is slightly more energy-dense than the average hay, it is not a high-calorie feedstuff. A large volume of beet pulp would need to be fed to add enough calories to put weight on an underweight horse.

Beet pulp can be a good addition if you’re looking to increase calories, particularly if hay quality is poor, because the highly digestible fiber in beet pulp will help support a healthy hind gut.

For the hard keeper or thin horse, feeding a beet pulp-based, high fat feed, like Senior Sport™, is a good choice to take advantage of the positive attributes of beet pulp, while also adding more calories into the diet. The addition of higher fat allows us to keep the meal sizes smaller.    

Disadvantages of Feeding Beet Pulp

One of the biggest concerns with beet pulp is the concern that, if it is fed dry, it can cause colic. This is because they believe that the shreds or pelleted form of beet pulp, when fed dry, will swell in the gut when wet. Research has shown this to be a myth when fed at levels less than 45% of the total diet. Beet pulp, when fed dry, has not led to higher incidences of colic or resulted in any sort of digestive distress.

The other concern with feeding beet pulp is the possibility for horses to choke. Beet pulp that is marketed for horses is available as dry shreds or pellets. Beet pulp pellets are usually larger in diameter and should be soaked before feeding. The particle size of bagged beet pulp shreds varies and larger particle size beet pulp should be soaked before feeding. Complete feeds that include beet pulp often have the beet pulp incorporated into the pellets or use a small particle size beet pulp shred that does not have to be soaked, although any complete feed can be soaked if a horse has a history of choking.

When soaking beet pulp, some tips include:

  • Soak as 1-part beet pulp to 2-parts of water.
  • Shredded beet pulp soaks water much more quickly than pellets.
  • Use cold or warm water.
  • Soak a few hours before feeding. There is no requirement to soak overnight, though it may be easier for some to do this.
  • Once soaked, beet pulp should be fed within 12 hours. In hot and humid environments, care must be taken, as wet beet pulp can ferment. If it smells like vinegar, do not feed it to your horse.

One merited concern with beet pulp is its high calcium to phosphorus ratio. The ideal calcium to phosphorus ratio for most horses is 2-parts calcium to 1-part phosphorus. A high calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in a horse’s diet can result in muscle and bone weakness. Thus, a horse’s diet needs to be properly balanced if adding straight beet pulp to their daily ration. If you are feeding or want to feed beet pulp and need help with balancing your horse’s diet, please feel free to contact us for a free, personalized feeding plan.

It is also worth noting that beet pulp is absent in many critical nutrients that horses need. Thus, while beet pulp can be a nice addition to the diet, it should not replace large portions of a horse’s forage or feed.

Take Home Message

Beet pulp is a great and usually safe source of fiber for horses. However, care must be taken if feeding straight beet pulp to ensure your horses are meeting their daily nutrient requirements.

References

Wroblewska, P. and Hikawczuk. 2021. Dried Sugar Beet Pulp as a Source of Soluble Dietary Fiber in Equine Nutrition: A Review. Animal Nutrition and Feed Tech. 21:405-20.

Chris Mortensen, Ph.D.