Beet Pulp For Horses: Definition, Benefits, And Feeding Guidelines  

beet pulp for horses

Beet pulp is a popular feeding option that many owners use as it is often recommended by equine vets and nutritionists.

In this post, we’ll discuss exactly what beet pulp is, the main benefits of beet pulp, specific use cases that make beet pulp an excellent choice, and provide general feeding guidelines depending on your horse’s condition.

What is Beet Pulp?

Beet pulp is a fibrous material that remains after the sugar has been extracted from sugar beets. It is a popular feed choice for horses due to its high digestibility and low starch content, making it a safe and effective option for providing additional calories and fiber. 

The pulp is typically available in shredded or pelleted forms, and while it may not be particularly nutrient-rich, it serves as an excellent source of digestible fiber.

What Is The Nutritional Composition Of Beet Pulp?

Beet pulp is renowned for its high fiber content, and is more digestible than most horse feeds (about 80-90% more digestible than most horse feeds). 

Ultimately, the more digestible a feed is, the more calories the horse will retain from the feed. 

Beet pulp’s highly digestible fiber also helps to support healthy gut function, making it particularly beneficial for horses with limited access to pasture or those in need of additional fiber in their diets.

Beet pulp is also low in starch and sugar, so it’s a safe option for horses prone to metabolic issues or laminitis. 

Benefits of Beet Pulp For Horses

Here are just a few of the main benefits of beet pulp that make it one of the most popular types of feeds for horses.

Highly Digestible Fiber

Beet pulp has much more digestible fiber than hay (beet pulp has 80% digestible fiber whereas most hay only has 40% digestible fiber). 

Unlike grains that can lead to spikes in blood sugar, the energy from digestible fiber is released slowly and steadily, promoting a consistent energy level. 

The fiber also aids in promoting healthy gut motility, preventing issues like colic and ensuring that the digestive system functions smoothly. 

Additionally, fiber is a safe and effective way to increase caloric intake without the risks associated with overfeeding grains. This makes it an excellent option for underweight horses, particularly senior horses or performance horses. 

Therefore, incorporating highly digestible fiber into a horse’s diet is a great way to support your horse’s overall digestive health and maintain their general condition.

Protects Against Ulcers

Beet pulp is great for preventing stomach ulcers in horses because it’s high in digestible fiber and low in starch. When horses eat it, they produce a lot of saliva, which helps neutralize stomach acid.

This makes the stomach less acidic, reducing the risk of ulcers. Beet pulp also forms a soft texture when soaked, which is gentle on the stomach lining. 

Beet pulp also has relatively low starch content. As starch can lead to stomach acidity, this makes beet pulp a safe and effective option for horses prone to ulcers.

High Calcium And Iron

Beet pulp has higher amounts of calcium and iron than levels found in traditional grains.

Calcium content is important because it aids bone density, blood coagulation, muscle contraction and cell excitability. 

Iron on the other hand, is important as it is an essential component of the hemoglobin that forms the red blood cells. 

Therefore, iron can help improve oxygen delivery and energy production, supporting the horse’s endurance, performance, and vitality.

Improves Body Composition

Beet pulp helps increase a horse’s body composition because it is high in fiber and low in sugar. 

This high-fiber content helps the horse feel full, preventing overeating and aiding in weight management. 

Another reason beep pulp is excellent at improving body composition is its high (80%) digestibility. This means that you can feed less as a high percentage of it will still be turned into fat (more so than feeding hay). 

Additionally, beet pulp’s soft, mushy consistency when soaked makes it easy on the horse’s digestive system, promoting overall gut health. This contributes to better nutrient absorption and a healthier body condition.

Low Protein Percentage Reduces Kidney Strain

Unlike dogs, cats, and humans, horses do not need a lot of protein because they do not store protein for later use as they would with fats and carbohydrates. 

Instead, that additional protein is ultimately excreted as urine.

If a horse has pre-existing kidney issues and receives too much protein, this could put additional strain on the kidney, which can cause the ammonia to leak into the blood (Pagan, 1998)

Ammonia is a waste product and is highly toxic in blood. Even small increases in the blood can cause severe side effects such as blindness, neurologic diseases and death .

An adult working horse needs about 12% protein in their diet (12% is the average amount of protein in your typical horse grain), and beet pulp has 8-10% (protein needs of a senior non-working horse). (Auwerda, 2023)

Therefore, it’s a great option to feed horses with kidney issues.

Drawbacks And Risks of Beet Pulp For Horses

Dangerous For Horses With EMS (If You Feed With Added Molasses)

Rinsed beet pulp without molasses has one of the lowest glycemic indexes on the chart (see below), yet you can see that beet pulp with added molasses has one of the highest glycemic indexes. 

This tells us that the beet pulp with added molasses is probably dangerous for horses with insulin resistance but the soaked beet pulp without added sugars are safe.

Some conditions that involve insulin resistance include:

  • Recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (REM) (tying up)
  • Equine metabolic disorder
  • Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) (Cushing’s)
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) 
  • Polysaccharide storage myopathy

Horses who are prone to laminitis can also benefit from a high fiber diet. 

While beet pulp (without molasses) is a great energy source, another option for horses with metabolic disorder is soybean oil as it helps horses keep a lower, more stable blood glucose level. 

A study conducted by Kentucky Equine Research Inc, found that when feeding exercised horses either sweet feed, soybean oil, or beet pulp to represent 15% of their total caloric intake in their diet, the group that was fed the soybean oil had the lowest blood glucose, insulin, and cortisol than any other tested group (CRANDELL et al., 2010). This means that the soybean oil was the source of calories that kept the blood and hormone levels the most stable. 

This is important to keep in mind if your horse is an athlete or has a form of insulin dysregulation such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). 

Avoid if Horse is in Renal Failure

Horses with reduced kidney function (renal failure) can suffer from weight loss and loss of appetite, leading some to believe that beet pulp might be a good source of weight gain.

However, in these cases, it’s best to avoid beet pulp due to its high calcium content as these horses should have a low calcium diet (less than 0.08%) (Ralston, 2005)

Conversely, horses in hepatic failure (liver failure) can be given beet pulp as they require increased simple carbohydrates with low fat to maintain their blood glucose levels (Ralston, 2005). The diet should emphasize starch (grains or concentrates) but fiber sources like soaked beet pulp can be acceptable supplements if dental problems are also an issue.

Easily Develops Mold And Fungi

Pressed fresh pulp has a high percentage of humidity which can cause fungus to grow.

The best way to tell if your feed has gone bad is first to look at it to make sure there are no visible signs of contamination, and the second is to smell it to make sure it smells fresh.

Beet Pulp With Molasses Can Cause Horses To Develop Ulcers

If you purchase beet pulp with added molasses, it releases sucrose into the stomach very rapidly. 

This rapid sucrose release has the potential to form ulcers in the non-glandular part of the stomach (Reese & Andrews, 2009) and should therefore be avoided if your horse is already prone to ulcers.

However, beet pulp without molasses is excellent for horses prone to ulcers because it  

Lacks Sufficient Vitamins

Beet pulp is a source of fiber, though it is not a grain, so it lacks many vitamins and minerals you’d typically find in a complete feed source. 

In particular, it lacks sufficient phosphorus, copper, and zinc (Lindberg, 2013). Beet pulp also lacks lysine that is essential for young horses when they are growing.  

NutrientBeet Pulp (shredded, without molasses)Alfalfa PelletsTimothy Hay PelletsGrain MixSenior FeedComplete FeedRice BranOats
Calcium0.5-0.8%1.0-1.5%0.3-0.5%0.2-0.6%0.6-1.2%0.5-1.0%0.2-0.4%0.1-0.5%
Phosphorus0.1-0.3%0.2-0.4%0.2-0.4%0.3-0.6%0.4-0.8%0.4-0.8%1.0-1.5%0.3-0.5%
Copper (mg/kg)5-108-154-1020-4030-6040-8015-305-15
Zinc (mg/kg)20-4040-8020-4040-10060-12080-16030-6020-40
Lysine0.2-0.4%0.7-1.2%0.2-0.5%0.3-0.7%0.5-1.0%0.5-1.0%0.3-0.6%0.3-0.6%

Feeding Guidelines

Below we’ll discuss some of the scenarios where it makes sense to feed beet pulp to your horse.

When Should You Feed Beet Pulp?

Beet pulp is a great choice for encouraging weight gain in horses that are not easy keepers (e.g., those that have trouble maintaining a 4 or 5 on the body condition score).

Some reasons a horse may fall under a score of five include:

  • Dental problems (quidding, ulcers, uneven teeth) 
  • Poor quality hay
  • Senior horses 
  • Horse is recovering from an illness or surgery

When assessing a horse’s dietary needs, start by assessing their body condition score. This is just a standardized way of describing if a horse is too fat, too thin or somewhere in between. Here is an example:

 (Hubbard Feeds, 2020)

As mentioned above, horses with dental problems could benefit from beet pulp. 

Feeding Guidelines For A Healthy, Typical Horse

For the average horse, you should add beet pulp in slowly to the diet, starting with 0.25-0.5lb and increasing gradually until they meet at least a four or five on the body condition scale. 

If you want to maintain a horse’s weight, 1-2lbs of beet pulp per day is often adequate, whereas if you wanted to gradually increase the horse’s body condition score, you could add as much as 4lbs per day to the diet (Kentucky Equine Research, 2018).

Feeding Guidelines – The Equine Athlete

If your horse is in work, they will undoubtedly have a higher caloric need than the average horse. 

Fiber is the second important factor in a horse’s diet (following water), so the source of fiber and rate/extent of fermentation of the fiber sources that are fed to equine athletes must be considered when formulating their feed rations. 

Inclusion levels of up to 3.0g of beet pulp (before soaking) per kg of body weight of the horse has been included in adult horses diets without any negative effects in overall nutrient utilization or performance (Lindberg, 2013) (that equivalates to 4.4lbs for a 1500lb horse). 

According to studies centered around feeding the elite performance horse, it was found that beet pulp can assist in the maintenance of hydration during exercise by acting as a reservoir for water and electrolytes (Harris & Schott, 2013)

The energy release is sustained over time and does not cause a spike in blood glucose like some grains do, reducing the incidence of a horse acting “hot” like some horses do after eating oats or sweet feed.

Soaking Guidelines

It’s important to always soak beet pulp before feeding it to prevent choking.

To soak beet pulp, place your dehydrated shreds or pellets into a bucket and add twice as much water as pellets to make a 2:1 ratio. 

If you want to use warm water, make sure it is not too hot as to cook the beet pulp because this will destroy the nutrients (Briggs, 2022)

Let the bucket of beet pulp and water sit for several hours until it has absorbed most of the water and turned into a fluffy consistency. You can drain the excess water or serve it “sloppy” just how it is. In terms of forage, make sure that you are also feeding your horse 1-2% of their body weight in hay (12-24 lbs for a 1200 lb horse). 

Soaking will also increase water intake which is important in both the summer and winter seasons. Summer because they are sweating more, therefore losing more fluids, and winter because they tend to drink less when the water is cold. That is one reason why the beginning of winter is always the peak time for incidence of colic (along with decreased exercise and turnout) (Texas A&M, 2022). 

Types of Beet Pulp

Beet pulp comes in shreds and flakes pellets. While the nutritional composition is the same, the shreds pellets may require more time to soak than the shreds.

Cost

Beet pulp is generally more economical than complete feeds, though it is more expensive than oats and relatively similar to rice bran. It is available at most feed stores and typically costs about $20 for a 50 pound bag.

Here’s an overview of how it compares to most other feeds:

Feed TypeAverage Cost per Pound
Beet Pulp (shredded)$0.50 – $1.00
Beet Pulp (pellets)$0.40 – $0.90
Alfalfa Pellets$0.20 – $0.40
Timothy Hay Pellets$0.30 – $0.50
Grain Mix$0.20 – $0.60
Senior Feed$0.50 – $1.20
Complete Feed$0.60 – $1.50
Rice Bran$0.40 – $0.80
Oats$0.20 – $0.40

Commonly Asked Questions About Feeding Beet Pulp

Is beet pulp healthy for horses?

Yes, beet pulp is healthy for horses as it provides a highly digestible, low-sugar source of fiber that supports digestive health, aids in weight management, and offers a safe form of calories, especially beneficial for hard keepers and senior horses.

How much beet pulp should I give my horse?

The amount of beet pulp you should give your horse depends on its size, age, activity level, and current body condition, but a general guideline is to start with 1 to 2 pounds per day, soaked and mixed with their regular feed, and adjust as needed with the guidance of a veterinarian or equine nutritionist.

How long should you soak beet pulp for horses?

You should soak beet pulp for horses in plenty of water for at least 15 minutes to ensure it is fully expanded and safe for consumption, preventing any risk of choking and aiding in digestion.

How does beet pulp help horses gain weight?

Beet pulp provides horses with a highly digestible, fiber-rich, low-sugar option that offers additional calories for weight gain without the risks associated with high-grain diets.

Is beet pulp better than oats for horses?

While both beet pulp and oats have their unique benefits, beet pulp is generally considered a safer option for horses prone to digestive issues or those needing to gain weight, as it provides highly digestible fiber without the high starch content found in oats, reducing the risk of colic and laminitis.

Can a horse colic on beet pulp?

While beet pulp is generally safe and beneficial for horses, it is crucial to soak it properly before feeding to prevent the risk of colic and ensure it expands before ingestion, not inside the horse’s stomach.

What is better beet pulp or alfalfa?

While both beet pulp and alfalfa are beneficial horse feeds, beet pulp is lower in calcium and protein and can be a better option for horses prone to obesity or those with kidney issues, whereas alfalfa is richer in these nutrients and may be more suitable for young, growing horses, lactating mares, or performance horses requiring more energy and protein.

Does beet pulp need to be soaked?

Beet pulp is often soaked before feeding to horses to enhance its digestibility, prevent choking on the dry shreds, and provide additional hydration, making it a safer and more beneficial option for the horse’s diet.

Does beet pulp go bad?

Yes, beet pulp can go bad, especially when it is wet, as it can quickly develop mold and bacteria. Store it in a cool, dry place and use it within a couple of days if soaked.

Can beet pulp replace hay?

While beet pulp can serve as a valuable supplement to increase fiber intake and improve body condition, it should not replace hay entirely, as it lacks the complete range of nutrients found in hay, which is essential for a horse’s overall health and well-being.

Should You Feed Beet Pulp To Your Horse?

Hopefully this guide provided some useful information that can help you determine whether beet pulp is a good feed choice for your horse. 

If you have any questions, be sure to consult a vet before feeding it to your horse. 

Alternatively, you can always reach out to us here at Beyond The Round for more information on how to craft the ideal feeding program for your horse.

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