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Beet Pulp Basics and How to Use Beet Pulp in Your Horse’s Ration

Beet Pulp

    • Is the fiber remaining after the sugar is removed from sugar beets
    • Averages 9.6% protein
    • Is low sugar (average 10.1%) and starch (average 1.3%)
    • Provides energy at approximately 1.2Mcal per pound (similar to alfalfa, slightly less than oats)
    • Can replace up to 25% (or more) of the hay ration because of its high fiber content
    • Can help “hard keepers” gain or maintain weight without adding excess sugar and starch
    • Will hold 3 to 10 times it’s volume in water
    • Can be soaked and fed in a consistency from barely "moist” for horses with chewing problems to "soupy” to help get in fluid


Hmmm...this stuff ain't so bad after all

Beet Pulp is available

  • Plain - no molasses added. The only ingredient listed on the label will be "Beet Pulp". The sugar content of unmolassed Beet Pulp can range from 6% to 12%.
  • Molasses added. The label will list "Beet Pulp" and "Molasses". The sugar content of molassed Beet Pulp can run from around 12% to higher than 20%. Small amounts of molasses may be added for dust control without being listed on the ingredient tag.
  • Beet Pulp "shreds" usually have no further processing after the sugar is removed; some shreds are chopped before being bagged. Size can vary from large bark-like flat pieces to small chunks - similar to shredded bark mulch - to a coarse chop that looks a bit like chopped spinach after soaking.
  • Beet Pulp pellets are shreds that have been finely chopped and formed into pellets.
  • SpeediBeet is a brand of micronized (extremely finely chopped) beet pulp which absorbs water very quickly. It is popular in the UK and is now available in the US.

How Much to Feed

A half pound (dry weight before soaking) of plain Beet Pulp makes a good low-carbohydrate carrier for supplements. This would be in the range of a couple of handfuls of pellets or a little more than half of a 1lb coffee can of shreds.

Feeding a pound or two (dry weight) of Beet Pulp can help maintain weight and 3 to 4 pounds or more will help with weight gain without increasing starch levels as grain does.

Because of its high fiber content, it can be used as 25-40% of the ration for horses who have difficulty chewing. If replacing hay with beet pulp, figure around 1lb of beet pulp (dry weight before soaking) for each 1½ to 2 lbs of grass hay (2 lbs of beet pulp would replace 3 to 4 lbs of hay).


Soaking Beet Pulp

Beet Pulp shreds can be fed without soaking - this has long been a practice at race tracks. Dry shreds are no more likely to cause choke than any other dry feed however most horses (and their humans) prefer them soaked, or at least moistened.

Beet Pulp pellets tend to be much harder than other pellets and it is strongly suggested they be fully soaked. They will soften up in an hour or two depending on the brand and temperature and will expand up to 10 times their original volume in 4-8 hours. It's really difficult to describe if you've never seen it.

Caution - many report beet pulp getting "sour" if left too long, especially in warm weather or if left in the sun during soaking. You can start soaking in the morning for an evening feed (or in the evening for a morning feed), preferably in the shade. 

Use a lot of water for soaking. There should be an inch or two or water remaining on top after the beet pulp is done soaking – this will be drained off before feeding. It can take a little experimenting to see how much water you will need.

Rinsing before soaking will help remove dust and surface iron. Draining in a colander and rinsing until the water runs clear after soaking will help remove residual molasses – this is effective if you are unable to get plain (no molasses added) beet pulp. You can add fresh water back in if you want to feed a “soupier” version or if you horse needs more fluids.

You can then add supplements, salt and other "stuff" either top dressed or stirred in.

Some horses will initially turn up their nose at beet pulp and will take some acclimating. It can help to start with just a little beet pulp added to something they already like, then gradually increase the beet pulp while decreasing the other feed to make the transition. Many horses will just dive right in but if your horse needs a taste tempter, you can try herbs or flavorings.

Feeding beet pulp in flat feed pans rather than wall feeders simplifies clean up - you can take the pans to a hose to rinse them out.  The low sides are also less apt to “concentrate” the new smells than a bucket or straight sided feeder – this lets the horse use his natural curiosity to explore his new feed without being overwhelmed by the strange smell and taste.

Tips for Boarders

Boarding your horse always makes controlling your horse’s diet harder but many have found ways to work beet pulp into the routine.

·       If you can get to the barn daily, soak the beet pulp at home or at work (a small cooler can work well for soaking and transporting). You can do this once a week or so and keep it in baggies in your freezer, ready for a quick grab on your way out the door.

·       If the barn has a refrigerator, you can soak/drain/rinse the beet pulp at home and pack in individual baggies to keep in the barn’s fridge. (For more than 3-4 days, it should be kept in the freezer.)

·       While “soak/drain/rinse” is ideal to remove surface iron, dust and residual sugar, the draining/rinsing could be skipped if your beet pulp is unmolassed and relatively dust free.

·       If the barn owner is willing to help, make it easy for them.  Pre-measure the beet pulp and your supplements into baggies, provide a large closed bucket or other container to keep your stuff neat and together. If needed, provide the bucket for soaking, a colander for draining, a metal sweat scraper for stirring. And be willing to offer paying a bit extra for this service.

Beet pulp is not “needed” but can be a good alternative to bagged feeds and grain or as a substitute for some of the hay ration (especially if you need to replace some high sugar/starch hay) and is well accepted by most horses. It doesn’t take long to get into a routine and the benefits usually outweigh any inconvenience.

References and more information

Dairy One Feed Composition Library (nutritional values of  feedstuffs based on thousands of samples)

The Famous Squirrel Story and The Myths and Realities of Beet Pulp (Susan Evans Garlinghouse, DVM - endurance rider, endurance vet)

MORE DEBATE ON BEET PULP — IS IT TOXIC? (Lively debate on Liz Goldsmith's EQUINE Ink blog)