Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Beet pulp: When to feed, how to feed Part 1

Riley is still a young and growing boy, but look at his metabolic indicators: Easy keeper. Natural cresty neck. Fat deposits in all of the key places. There's a grazing muzzle in his future.

He's not getting much in the way of feed -- just a ration balancer, Pro-Add Ultimate from Progressive feed. It's low starch (7%) and high protein (55%). Naturally, he makes up for it by hoovering down hay, and I'd like to find a way to fill his tummy at feeding time.

What about beet pulp?
Harv already gets beet pulp, and recently I've been thinking of giving Riley a small amount of beet pulp. But what is beet pulp? What is its nutritional value? How might it benefit or harm Riley?

Beet pulp comes from the manufacture of table sugar (from sugar beets). The pulp is basically what's left over when all of the sugar has been extracted from the beet. The process is so efficient, there is barely any sugar left in the pulp.

Beet pulp isn't quite a forage, and it isn't quite an energy feed like grain. It's pretty unique, so it's probably good to review it's characteristiscs...

The facts on beet pulp

Beet pulp is...

  • a good source of digestible fiber (around 16-18%). It's referred to as a superfiber because it lacks lignin (a substance found in tall, stemmy grasses) which impedes digestion. Beet pulp is easy on the horse's digestive system yet still provides the calorie content of a grain product.
  • known for having the "scratch factor." This refers to additional fiber length (shredded form only) which is lacking in many alternative fiber sources.
  • fairly comparable to a grass hay in protein (about 8%)
  • not high calorie (.50%); it is lower in fat that cereal grains.
  • low in starch (non-structural carbohydrate content of approximately 12%)
  • low in vitamin B and selenium, with virtually no vitamin D or vitamin A
  • higher calcium content than grass hay. The calcium/phosphorus ratio is 6:1.
  • higher in digestible energy (1,060 kcal/lb) than grass hay but lower than cereal grains
  • low in glucose with only 5-10% sugar in molasses-free formulations. It's glycemic index is 1 compared to oats (100) and bermuda (20).
  • inexpensive, running between $9-18 for a 40 lb bag (dry).
  • okay to feed dry, by all reports (personally I would never feed it dry -- sek)
  • found in many quality feeds such as Triple Crown Senior, Triple Crown Complete, Triple Crown Growth, and Legends 12 Maturity Formula. These formulas add oils and molasses to eliminate the need for soaking.
So, I think it is probably safe to feed a small amount of beet pulp to Riley, but there is a lot more info about beet pulp that is worth knowing.
Stay tuned for Part II...


  1. I'll be interested in reading the rest of your research. Might be a good alternative for my boy at some point.

  2. thanks for this...just wondering, do you soak it before you feed it or no?

  3. According to "the experts" you don't need to soak it for fear of it "binding up their innards," but it is dry and they might choke on it. I would soak for 45' to an hour to be safe. They also say not to use hot-hot water so that the nutrients are preserved....

  4. I've used beetpulp for years, and love it as a food for horses (uh, and children--I've never known a barnkid who hasn't tried it).

    What I've learned:
    * batches of beetpulp (even from the same company) can vary dramatically in sugar content. If you have a sugar-sensitive horse, rinse it (soak/drain/repeat) until the water is clear. I've had 5 bags in a row that produced clear water the first time, and then 1 bag that made coffee-coloured mud.

    * if you don't have a sugar-sensitive horse, feed it anyhow!

    * soaking is considered optional, but since the pellets can carry a ton of water when soaked, it's excellent to use beetpulp to supplement hydration especially when the bucket water is cold or icy.

    To read something hysterically funny about beetpulp, click here:

    (the article was written by an equine nutritionist with a tremendous sense of humor....)

  5. I love beet pulp; and the mare does too. She's 3 1/2 (3/4 Friesian cross) and it keeps weight on her nicely and she adores it. I notice when I stop feeding it to her, her hips start becoming more prominent. I have pellets and I give her about a pound soaked in warm water. She likes it warm and soupy. It's great making a cereal mash out of it too. Add grain, supplements, apples, molasses, whatever. It's a nice warm treat after a ride. I'll always feed it to all my horses no matter what age :)

  6. The only thing that concerns me is the calcium. Growing horses need a balanced calcium/phosphorus ratio don't they?

  7. AareneX -- I read that the shredded pulp is mostly sold in the US, and the pellets are sold in Europe. The shredded stuff would be easy to choke on. Has anyone gotten pellets in the U.S.?

    I'm told that if you feed a balanced feed and just supplement with a bit of beet pulp, you should be okay, but you can always add bran to balance things out. I think about 1/4 bran to 3/4 pulp is about right but don't quote me.

  8. I get pellets, we don't generally have shredded here (W. Coast of N. America). Add water, wait 30-60 minutes, you have wet shreds. It looks like the stuff that comes out of the pencil sharpener except it's wet and smells nice.

    Here's an (older but well-researched) article about beet pulp nutrition, written by an equine nutritionist:


  9. Thanks for the links -- part II has a bibliography, I'll add these if they are not already there...

  10. Over here you get the pellets, in the US you get the shreds. Last year there was a shortage here. I fed it to my mare Naigen after trying everything to get her to eat (vitamin E deficiency like an anorexic person made her stomach small, eating hay was hard for her for a long time she did not want to eat even half a flake) beet pulp was the final thing that helped and she had it every day and night until she died.

    When I did my equine nutrition in university we discussed a lot of feeding myths and the soaking beet pulp was one. My prof said they did extensive studies and the horses that coliced with dry beet pulp were the ones that had it introduced/increased suddenly to create the digestive upset. So long as you know how much it expands to it's perfectly safe. I fed it wet however to improve palatability.

  11. Part of the reason that I feed beet pulp is to add more water to my horse's diet so I always soak. With beet pulp shreds, soaking for 10 minutes in warm water is fine. The pellets take longer to fluff up.

    I buy beet pulp without molasses because my horse is sensitive to sugar.

    It's a great way to supplement forage or add some "cool" calories to a hard keepers diet.

    I have fed beet pulp dry in the past when it's mixed in with other feed and never had a problem. That said, some horses are just prone to choke and it's a terrible thing to watch. Once your horse has choked once, they generally are more likely to choke again. Based on the two episodes of choking that I saw I was tempted to add water to everything

  12. I LOVE beet pulp! I feed it wet mainly because I can be sure the horse is getting some good water with it which is nice during those cold snaps when you're not always sure they're drinking enough. Hot water works great for the winter (if you have it at the barn), and it makes all your suppliments stick to something besides the bottom of the feeder!


  13. I love beet pulp. I think it is a great stretcher this time of year and even though it does NOT need to be soaks I do because it makes me feel good to feed the horses something warm. Plus it does add more water to their diet.

  14. Interesting...I live in Wyoming and it seems that here the pelleted beet pulp is more common than the shredded texture. I quite like it because it's very palatable...no need to soak it. I've fed it dry for years and never had any problems. However, I would soak shredded beet pulp. Mostly due to make it go down better and avoid choking.

    I cannot remember the name of the brand we have, I'll have to look tomorrow when I feed.

    Random side note: rice bran is also the same around here...more commonly found in pelleted form.

  15. We feed beet pulp to our seniors as our vet says it is a good alternative to other forages when the oldies need to pack on the pounds but you are still worried about colic, founder, etc...

  16. I use beet pulp - Blue Seal and Standlee both make a nice beet pulp pellet. The pellets seem to me to be more consistent in quality than the shreds, which seem to sometimes be good and other times can be very "dirty."

    The pellets do take longer to soak, which I do b/c of risk of choke, plus for my easy keepers it makes them think they are getting a bigger meal. :)

    I like being able to make it warm when the temps are cold.

    I rinse/soak/rinse the pellets, which do not have molasses, but the initial rinse reduces iron and the soak/rinse reduces sugar.

  17. This is a very timely article for me! Thanks for the info....I was actually going to research how much protein in beet pulp as I have an easyish keeper on little grain who could I think use more protein but a Ration Balancer made him hot....so I think the beet pulp a perfect compliment then to his diet to add a little bit more protein/fiber with low glucose

  18. The comments have also been very illuminating too -thanks. I always read that beet pulp should be at least well dampened, but that was also an old book. Maybe in the old days it was important but with improved cleaner processing, and more beet pulp products specifically for horse feed, it is now an option, not a requirement.

  19. Very informative post. Thanks for all the great info, I'm really looking forward to part II with the bibliography. Overall, looks like positive reception! I've known lots of people that have used it, but have never personally needed it. Now that my girl is 16 (argh!) I'm considering some dietary changes as I see her body changing a bit.

  20. Good post! Like some of the others, I am considering what to feed my 11 year old OTTB mare. She is currently in Northeast Florida and will be travelling at the end of this month up here (to NW Washington state). She will be going from, not only a drastic climate change but also from a dry lot with Coastal hay to 3 acres of pasture to herself. In addition to switching her to pasture gradually, I also am going to have to change her food, as her nutritional and excercise needs are going to change. I can't wait to read part II, Stacey.

    eta- What are you feeding Harvey, in addition to the beetpulp?

  21. I live in FL and have a Morgan cross mare that is a very easy keeper. During this time of year, she doesn't have any grass to keep her busy, so I feed her 3 heaping cups of dry shredded beet pulp soaked and rinsed twice a day. I also feed her a vitamin/mineral supplement along with Omega 3 and Vitamin E for her skin issues. She gets about 10 lbs of hay/day split up into 2 meals. She doesn't eat any processed feed at all and is maintaining her weight. This was recommended by my vet to counter her probable Equine Metabolic Syndrome.

  22. THANK YOU for bloging about BEET PULP A MAGIC food for horses. I have known about and used it for over twenty two years. It will keep your horses healthy for up to 1/2 cheaper than using just grain and hay. I use the pallets because you get a greater yeild and can control how much each horse is getting. Also because you must soak it with water, it helps to keep liquids in the horse's stomach.


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