What is beet pulp?
It is a low-cost by-product of the sugar beet industry that is commonly used as a fiber source in animal diets.
Here is what shreds look like:
After the sugar beets are processed to extract the sugar from them, the pulp is the product that is left over. The pulp is a “waste product” of the sugar beet industry, and is therefore one of the more inexpensive feeds available to supplement in your horse’s diet, since the sugar beet industry would otherwise have to dispose of the pulp.
Beet pulp is very high in easily digested fiber, while being very low in sugar. This makes it an ideal addition to any horse’s diet, especially those that have metabolic disorders.
Because of the fiber content, beet pulp is considered a long-stem forage substitute. This means that it can safely be used as a hay or grass substitute. It is easily digestible, making it especially ideal for older horses or horses that have digestive problems.
When substituting beet pulp for hay, the usual amount is to feed 1 pound of beet pulp for every 1.5 pounds of hay being replaced. As an example, you would use 4 pounds of beet pulp to replace 6 pounds of hay in your horse’s diet.
When used as a hay substitute, it should make up no more than 40% of the horse’s total forage.
Where do I find it and how is it packaged?
Beet pulp comes in two forms: shreds and pellets. Depending on where you live, one form may be more readily available than the other form, but both of them are used the same way.
If you have both in your area, it comes down to personal preference of which to use. Most horse owners say that the pellets are easier to store (less dust and less space required), but most also say that the shreds soak more quickly.
Many feed stores carry beet pulp, and if they don’t, they can usually order it in. You may also check farm stores or co-ops that don’t carry horse feed, as it is also commonly fed to other livestock. It generally comes packaged in 40 pound bags.
How and why do I feed it?
Beet pulp can be fed in addition to other concentrated feeds, or fed alone. It can be fed soaked or dry.
Many horses will turn their nose up at beet pulp the first time (or first twenty times!) they encounter it in their feed tub. For some reason, it seems to arouse more suspicion in horses than any other feed.
Because of this, I recommend starting with a very small amount of beet pulp and working up to the desired amount. It also helps if the it is mixed with a current feed, or something else (like a treat or two) highly desired by the horse.
It is a great choice for mixing supplements into a finicky horse’s feed, as the supplements stick well to soaked beet pulp.
It can also be used to add volume to a horse’s diet for horses that get very little other feed because they don’t need very many calories.
Because it has a higher calorie content than most other forages, it can be effectively used to safely add calories to a horse’s diet by replacing some of the horse’s hay with beet pulp.
Does it need to be soaked?
There is much debate about if beet pulp needs to be soaked before being fed to a horse. Some people say all of it (shreds or pellets) need to be soaked at least 4 hours before feeding. Others say none of it needs to be soaked. Yet others say the pellets should be soaked while it is personal preference if the shreds are soaked.
Studies have been done to show that soaked or not, it is no more likely than any other feed to cause choke in horses. So, basically, it is personal preference...or rather, your horse’s personal preference.
Some horses like it soaked for a few hours until it makes a soft mash, while others will eat it only completely dry. Then again, some will eat it only if it is soaked for a few minutes so that it is moist but still crunchy.
If you choose to soak it, it is currently recommended to soak it no longer than 1-2 hours, especially in hot weather, as it can begin to ferment. If soaked beet pulp smells sickly-sweet like wine, it has begun to ferment and should be disposed of.
Myth #1: Unsoaked, it will expand inside my horse’s stomach and explode.
This is not true. Yes, it hugely expands when soaked in water. However, the inside of a horse’s stomach is filled with acid, not water. The instant beet pulp reaches the stomach, the process of breaking it down begins.
Myth #2: Unsoaked, it causes choke.
Also not true. Unsoaked beet pulp is no more likely to cause choke than any other feed. Choke is caused by a horse bolting his feed and it getting caught in the esophagus. If a horse has choked before, or is a bolter, ALL feeds should be soaked, not just beet pulp.
Myth #3: It is high in sugar.
Not only is this one not true, its actually the opposite. The sugar beet industry is the industry responsible for making table sugar...so they take the sugar out of the sugar beets and leave everything else, EXCEPT the sugar.
In fact, most feed companies add a small amount of molasses to beet pulp to make it more palatable to horses and to reduce dust due to the lack of sugar. However, even with this added molasses, beet pulp is still lower in sugar than most other components of your horse’s diet.
Now that we've looked at beet pulp, we can continue onto the rest of the diet...
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