Beet pulp is a mainstay of many feeding programs for horses. This highly digestible feed is a good source of soluble fiber that supports hindgut function and helps meet energy requirements.

Beet pulp is a by-product of sugar extraction from beets and is typically low in starch and sugar. However, some products contain added molasses which increases the sugar content of the feed and may be unsuitable for horses with metabolic disorders such as equine metabolic syndrome or Cushing’s Disease.

Soaking beet pulp in water improves the palatability of the feed for some horses. This practice also reduces the sugar content of molassed beet pulp and supports adequate hydration in performance horses. However, most horses can safely consume dry beet pulp.

Beet pulp is also a good source of calcium, but it is low in phosphorus and other trace minerals. To ensure your horse receives a balanced diet, a vitamin and mineral supplement should be fed alongside beet pulp.

Beet Pulp for Horses

Beet pulp is a highly palatable, fibrous feed that can be added to many equine diets. It is a by-product of sugar and ethanol production that is widely available at a reasonable cost.

After sugar extraction, the remaining beet pulp is typically dried to reduce mold growth. Dry beet pulp can be purchased at most feed stores in North America and is available in shredded or pelleted formats.

A key benefit of this feed is its versatility. Beet pulp can be fed to a wide range of horses, from performance athletes to older horses with dental issues, due to its soft texture when soaked.

Dry beet pulp is also available with added molasses, which increases the energy content and improves palatability for some horses.

Beet Pulp for Horses

 

Nutritional Profile

The nutritional profile of beet pulp varies depending on the specific processing method and the ingredient source. Check the feed tag or guaranteed analysis for the specific product you are reading to determine its nutritional content.

Digestible Energy

Beet pulp is a good source of digestible energy for horses who need additional calories in their diet. Dry, unmolassed beet pulp provides approximately 2.8 megacalories (mcal) per kg of dry matter.

This means that it supplies more calories than a typical hay (2 mcal / kg), but less than a cereal grain such as ground corn (3.85 mcal / kg).

For context, a mature horse that is not exercising requires 16.65 mcal of digestible energy per day, equivalent to 6 kg (13.2 lb) of dry beet pulp.

Soluble Fibre

Beet pulp is a desirable feed because it is a good source of soluble fibre. This soluble fiber comprises polysaccharides, large complexes of various sugars, that act as a prebiotic in the horse’s hindgut.

The soluble fibre content of beet pulp includes: [23][24]

  • Pectins: A branched structure of various sugars, representing 15 – 20% of beet pulp dry matter
  • Hemicellulose: A branched structure of various sugars, representing 24 – 32% of beet pulp dry matter
  • Cellulose: A non-branched chain of glucose molecules, representing 22 – 30% of beet pulp dry matter

When the horse eats beet pulp, these soluble fibres remain largely intact as they transit through the stomach and small intestine. In the hindgut, various microbes breakdown the fibre through a process known as microbial fermentation. This produces volatile fatty acids (VFAs) that can be used as an energy source by the horse. [7][8][30]

Soluble fibers in beet pulp are broken down by beneficial fiber-digesting microbes in the horse’s gut. This process creates a favorable environment in the hindgut for fermenting other fiber sources, such as hay. As a result, it helps maintain a healthy pH level in the hindgut, particularly when beet pulp is used as an alternative to cereal grains. [10][11]

Protein Content and Digestibility

The protein content of beet pulp is similar to a mid-maturity grass hay. Beet pulp typically contains 8 – 11% on a dry matter basis. [25]

However, the protein in beet pulp is less easily digested in the small intestine than other common protein sources. This means less amino acids will be absorbed from the gut and your horse may need additional protein sources in their diet to fully meet their protein and amino acid requirement. [7]

Growing horses, lactating or pregnant mares, and heavily exercising horses can benefit from the inclusion of beet pulp in their diet to supply soluble fiber. However, these horses are likely to require need additional protein sources such as alfalfa hay or soybean meal.

Mineral Content

Beet pulp provides a high concentration of calcium, an important electrolyte mineral involved in bone health and muscle function.

However, horse owners should note that beet pulp has a high calcium to phosphorus ratio, approximately 10:1. Ideally, a horse’s diet should maintain a lower ratio between these minerals, ranging from 2:1 to 6:1 for optimal balance.

Equine feeds that contain beet pulp typically have added phosphorus sources to ensure these minerals are well balanced. If you are feeding beet pulp on its own, you may need to provide additional phosphorus in the form of wheat bran or monosodium phosphate.

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Sugar Content

Beet pulp is byproduct feed that represents the fibrous pulp remaining after sugar extraction from beetroot. As a result, the pulp typically has a low sugar content because the goal of the manufacturing process is to extract as much of the sugar as possible.

However, some feed companies add molasses to the pulp to improve palatability and energy content of the feed. While equine nutritionists prefer unmolassed beet pulp for most horses due to its lower sugar content, it may be more difficult to find locally.

Feeding horses molassed beet pulp can increase blood sugar (glucose) and insulin levels to a similar extent as feeding grains such as oats. [6] Beet pulp with molasses should be avoided for horses with equine metabolic syndrome or laminitis to limit their insulin response after a meal.

Besides the higher sugar content and slightly elevated calorie supply of molassed beet pulp, most forms of beet pulp are nutritionally equivalent. [1][2][3]

Nutritional Composition of Dried Beet Pulp

The following table shows the nutritional profile of molassed (containing 3% molasses) and unmolassed beet pulp on a dry-matter basis.

Nutrient Molassed
Beet Pulp
Unmolassed
Beet Pulp
Digestible Energy (mcal / kg) 2.84 2.8
Crude protein (%) 10 10
Lysine (%) 0.42 0.44
Fat (%) 1.1 1.1
Soluble Fibre (%) 32 31
Calcium (%) 0.89 0.91
Phosphorus (%) 0.09 0.09
Potassium (%) 1.11 0.96
Sugar (%) 23 0.4
Starch (%) 2 0

 

Benefits of Beet Pulp

Beet pulp can be fed to horses of any age or physiological status. However, its characteristics as a highly digestible fibre make it particularly appealing for senior horses, hard keepers, horses with hindgut issues and performance horses.

Forage Replacement

The horse’s digestive system thrives with near-constant intake of fibrous roughage. But sometimes, your hay supply may be limited or too low quality to meet your horse’s needs.

In these cases, beet pulp can be used to replace up to 45% of the forage in your horse’s diet. Feeding beet pulp as a hay replacement can ensure your horse’s diet is meeting their energy needs while supporting hindgut health.

Palatable Feed

Unmolassed beet pulp is a palatable source of fiber, especially for senior horses. [16][17] It can be used to meet calorie needs of senior horses that are unable to consume enough hay or pasture.

Senior horses that are quidding due to dental issues can be fed a palatable mash of soaked beet pulp to achieve an ideal body weight or maintain body condition.

Senior horses should be monitored closely for signs of Cushing’s disease (PPID) and insulin resistance. If your aged horse develops these conditions, be sure to feed unmolassed beet pulp and work closely with a nutritionist to provide a balanced diet.

Supports Weight Gain

Beet pulp is a good option for hard keepers who require more calories to maintain an ideal weight. It can also be fed to underweight horses that need to gain weight.

Horses are considered underweight if they have a body condition score of 4 or less on the 9-point Henneke scale. If you are feeding an under-conditioned horse, aim for gradual weight gain to reach the ideal body condition score of 5.

Beet pulp provides more calories than most grass hays and it is generally very palatable, which encourages a high intake. To further support weight gain, consider adding calorie-dense oil such as canola oil or w-3 oil to the beet pulp. Choosing a less mature grass hay or adding energy-dense alfalfa hay can also be beneficial.

Always consult with your veterinarian to identify and address the underlying cause of weight loss, such as metabolic or digestive dysfunction.

Supports Hindgut Health

Horses with hindgut issues such as free fecal water syndrome, hindgut dysbiosis or age-related decreases in gut function may benefit from a diet with highly digestible beet pulp.

Feeding beet pulp can support hindgut health by increasing numbers of cellulose-degrading microbes that breakdown fibre. These microbes produce butyrate, which is the main energy source for cells lining the digestive tract and helps maintain a healthy gut barrier.

These benefits for the hindgut microbiome are observed whether beet pulp is replacing a portion of the forage or grain in the horse’s diet. [11][32]

Notably, cellulose-degrading microbes are known to be lower in horses with diarrhea and colitis. [33][34] More research is needed to determine if feeding beet pulp can reduce the incidence of diarrhea and colitis or help horses recover from these conditions.

Supports Performance Horses

Performance horse diets are often supplemented with grains to meet the energy demands of exercise. However, feeding grains high in starch and sugar can increase the risk of gastric ulcers and hindgut dysfunction.

Beet pulp can replace grains in performance diets, reducing the risk of gut issues while still providing adequate energy to maintain the horse’s body weight and performance. [5][12]

Beet pulp other advantages for performance horses, including:

  • High water-holding capacity to support hydration
  • Prolonged energy source
  • Possible glycogen-sparing effect

Promotes Hydration

Feeding beet pulp is a great option for endurance horses, who require sustained energy and stamina to excel in long-distance races and events. Endurance horses may also may struggle to consume enough water to maintain adequate hydration during competitions.

Beet pulp can expand and hold water better than other fibre sources. [35][36] Feeding soaked beet pulp to horses prior to exercise provides a fluid reservoir in the gut that can be drawn on as a water source for the horse. [14]

Studies in horses fed fermentable fibre observe lower water content in feces and improved thermoregulation, suggesting improved hydration status. [13][14]

Although feeding soaked beet pulp makes horses heavier by increasing gut fill, this is also the case when feeding hay. [5][13] Water bound to beet pulp is more available for absorption from the gut than water bound to grass hay. For this reason, soaked beet pulp is a better source of fiber to feed prior to exercise. [14]

Prolonged Energy Source

Beet pulp can provide horses with sustained energy release, representing a good fuel for endurance exercises. Hindgut fermentation of beet pulp produces volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which are a steady and long-lasting source of energy for the horse.

The volatile fatty acid propionate can be converted to glucose hours after feeding, helping to maintain a high level of exercise. [5]

If feeding molassed beet pulp, the sugar in the molasses can also be used as an immediate fuel for work, offering versatility for athletic horses. [5][22]

Improves Glyogen Stores

By relying on the slow-release energy from beet pulp in the diet, exercising horses use up less of their own stored energy, such as glycogen. This is a storage form of glucose found in muscle and liver tissue that horses breakdown during exercise to generate cellular energy.

In one study, there was more glycogen remaining in muscle after exercise in horses fed beet pulp compared to those fed oats. This result shows that the horses fed beet pulp used up less of this energy reserve. [5][15]

By prolonging energy supply from the diet, performance horses are less likely to experience glycogen depletion, which can lead to fatigue and decreased performance.

How to Feed Beet Pulp to Horses

Horses can consume large quantities of beet pulp as part of their ration. In one study, horses were fed 45% of their diet as dry beet pulp, an amount that is roughly equivalent to 4.5 kg (10 lb) per day for a mature horse. [26]

Contrary to popular belief, beet pulp does not need to be soaked before feeding. Healthy horses can consume large amounts of dry beet pulp without any signs of colic, choke, or change in fecal consistency. [26]

However, many horses prefer soaked beet pulp, especially when fed in large quantities. [31] Soaking and rinsing beet pulp reduces the sugar content, which can be beneficial for horses with metabolic syndrome or laminitis.

How to Soak Beet Pulp

It is recommended to soak beet pulp when it is fed in amounts larger than 1 lb (0.5 kg) in a single meal. [27] Follow these steps to prepare the feed:

  1. Measure the Beet Pulp: Use a scale to accurately weigh the desired amount of beet pulp before putting it into a large bucket.
  2. Add Water: Add roughly double the amount of water to the beet pulp. For example, if you have 1 kg of beet pulp, soak it in 2 liters of water.
  3. Soaking Duration: It is generally recommended to soak the beet pulp for at least a couple of hours, although this duration can be significantly reduced if you are using warm water. [37]

Depending on your horse’s preferences you can alter the amount of water used and the duration of soaking. Research studies have used between one to five litres of water per kg of beet pulp, and have left it soaking between 8 – 12 hours. [3][4][9][10][14][19][22][28]

The beet pulp is ready to feed when it takes up a larger volume in the bucket and has a light and fluffy texture. Any remaining water can be drained off before feeding or fed along with the beet pulp.

Rinsing Beet Pulp

Horses with metabolic syndrome or laminitis require low-sugar diets to avoid disease complications. If feeding beet pulp, it should be soaked and rinsed prior to feeding to reduce the sugar content. [6]

Follow these steps to rinse beet pulp after it has been soaked:

  1. Drain water: Drain any remaining water in your mash to remove sugars absorbed in the water.
  2. Add water: Replace with fresh water and allow it to mix with the beet pulp.
  3. Repeat: Repeat this process 2 – 3 times to fully rinse the beet pulp before feeding.

This is especially important when feeding molassed beet pulp. Ideally, metabolic horses should only use unmolassed beet pulp, but this may not always be available in your region.

If you feed molassed sugar beet pulp without soaking and rinsing it first, the feed will induce a blood glucose response that is similar to other high sugar and starch feeds such as oats. [5][6]

Fermented Beet Pulp

Soaked beet pulp should be fed within 24 – 48 hours of soaking to avoid fermentation, which can cause it to become unpalatable. This process happens faster in hot summer weather than in the winter. [37]

Fermented beet pulp smells acidic like vinegar and should be discarded. To avoid wasting feed, only soak beet pulp in small batches that will be used up in a single day.

Introducing to the Diet

Beet pulp is a highly digestible fibre that can alter hindgut microbial populations. [32] As with any diet change it is best to introduce beet pulp gradually to allow your horse’s digestive tract to adapt without causing digestive upsets.

Consider the following transition schedule to get your horse used to their new diet over a 10-day period:

  • Days 1 – 3: Feed 75% current diet; 25% new diet
  • Days 4 – 6: Feed 50% current diet; 50% new diet
  • Days 7 – 9: Feed 25% current diet; 75% new diet
  • Day 10: Feed 100% new diet

Always monitor your horse’s feeding behaviour when first introducing beet pulp, especially if they have a history of choke. Horses that eat dry beet pulp very quickly can have an increased risk of choke. Soak the beet pulp and feed smaller meals to reduce this risk. [29]

Example Diets

Below are examples for the inclusion of beet pulp in senior horse, moderately exercising, late pregnancy, and early lactation diets.

Table 1. Sample Diet for 500 kg (1100 lb) Horse

Feed Senior Moderate Exercise Late Pregnancy Early Lactation
Hay 10 kg
(22 lb)
Free-choice Free-choice Free-choice
(High-Quality)
Beet
Pulp
0.45 kg
(1 lb)
0.91 kg
(2 lb)
0.91 kg
(2 lb)
1.4 kg
(3 lb)
Soybean
Meal
0.5 kg
(1 lb)
Omneity
Pellets
200 grams
(2 scoops)
200 grams
(2 scoops)
250 grams
(2.5 scoops)
250 grams
(2.5 scoops)
Salt 15 grams
(1 tbsp)
30 grams
(2 tbsps)
15 grams
(1 tbsp)
15 grams
(1 tbsp)
w-3 oil 60 ml
(2 oz)
90 mL
(3 oz)
180 mL
(6 oz)
Nutrient Analysis
Digestible Energy
(% of requirement)
112 100 103 95
Crude Protein
(% of requirement)
147 143 117 110
Lysine
(grams / day)
44 52 47 83
HC
(ESC + starch; % of diet)
9.1 9.2 9.3 9.5
Fat
(% of diet)
2.7 3.4 3.2 4.0

 

Vitamins and Minerals

Beet pulp is not a complete feed and will not meet all of the nutritional requirements of horses in any stage. To prevent nutrient deficiencies, a comprehensive vitamin and mineral supplement needs to be added that supplies these nutrients in appropriate amounts.

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Feeding Considerations

Although beet pulp is a suitable feed for almost any horse, there are some important considerations to keep in mind, including the molasses content, iron levels and anti-nutritive factors.

Molasses Content

Unmolassed beet pulp is a great choice for horses that require low-sugar diets. Compared to feeding high-starch grains such as barley and oats, unmolassed beet pulp will result in a lower blood glucose level following a meal. [20][21]

However, molassed beet pulp is significantly higher in sugar content due to the inclusion of molasses. Feeding this form of beet pulp will increase glucose and insulin levels, similar to feeding oats. [6]

In horses that need a low glycemic diet, it is important to choose unmolassed beet pulp or soak and rinse the molassed feed before providing it to your horse. Alternatively, you can substitute some of the molassed beet pulp with oil to reduce the overall sugar content of the diet while meeting energy needs. [6][12]

Iron Content

Beet pulp typically has higher iron levels compared to forages. [25] Although iron is a required mineral in equine diets, horses can easily meet their iron needs from hay and pasture alone.

The iron in beet pulp is mostly bound to pectin, cellulose and hemicellose. When these molecules are digested in the hindgut, iron is released and may be available for absorption. More research is needed to determine the bioavailability of iron in beet pulp for horses.

If you are feeding beet pulp to horses consuming high-iron hay or are known to have iron overload, work with a nutritionist to ensure the mineral ratios are well-balanced. Additional copper and zinc may need to be supplemented to ensure these minerals are absorbed sufficiently in the gut.

You can determine the iron content of your hay by submitting a forage analysis sample.

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Anti-Nutritive Factors

Beet pulp contains a class of compounds called cyanogenic glucosides, which have been shown to interfere with selenium and iodine use in the body of ruminants. [29]

However, issues with selenium and iodine use due to feeding beet pulp to horses have not been reported.

Summary

  • Beet pulp is a cost-effective, highly digestible and palatable source of fiber for equine diets. It can also be used as an alternative to hay when the availability of adequate forage is limited.
  • Beet pulp serves as a prebiotic for hindgut microbes, supporting overall fibre digestion and pH balance in the hindgut.
  • Molassed beet pulp is made with molasses, resulting in improved palatability and energy density. While it can be used for performance horses, the high sugar content means it should be avoided for horses with metabolic syndrome or laminitis.
  • Beet pulp does not need to be soaked, but some horses may prefer it soaked. Rinsing after soaking can further reduce the sugar content of molassed beet pulp.
  • Beet pulp is not a complete feed and will not meet all of your horse’s vitamin and mineral requirements. These nutrients must be supplemented in the diet to avoid nutritional deficiencies or imbalances.

Have questions about feeding beet pulp to your horse? Submit your horse’s information online to consult with an equine nutritionist and get help formulating a balanced diet that incorporates beet pulp.

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References

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  3. Jensen, R.B. et al. Social Facilitation of Feeding and Time Budgets in Stabled Ponies. Animal Feed Science and Technology. 2016.
  4. Olsman, A.F.S. et al. Macronutrient digestibility, nitrogen balance, plasma indicators of protein metabolism and mineral absorption in horses fed a ration rich in sugar beet pulp. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2004.
  5. Richardson, K. and J.A.M.D Murray. Fiber for Performance Horses: A Review. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2016.
  6. Groff, L., et. al. Effect of preparation method on the glycemic response to ingestion of beet pulp in Thoroughbred horses. Proceedings of 17th Equine Nutrition and Physiology Society Symposium. 2001.
  7. Moore-Colyer, M.J.S. et al. The mobile bag technique as a method for determining the degradation of four botanically diverse fibrous feedstuffs in the small intestine and total digestive tract of ponies. British Journal of Nutrition. 2007.
  8. Sunvold, G.D., et. al. In vitro fermentation of cellulose, beet pulp, citrus pulp, and citrus pectin using fecal inoculum from cats, dogs, horses, humans, and pigs and ruminal fluid from cattle. Journal of Animal Science. 1995.
  9. Brøkner, C., et. al. Metabolic response to dietary fibre composition in horses. Animal. 2016.
  10. Brøkner, C., et. al. Equine pre-caecal and total tract digestibility of individual carbohydrate fractions and their effect on caecal pH response. Archives of Animal Nutrition. 2012.
  11. Grimm, P., et. al. Partial substitution of cereals with sugar beet pulp and hindgut health in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2021.
  12. Crandell, K.G., et. al. A comparison of grain, oil and beet pulp as energy sources for the exercised horse. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2010.
  13. Spooner, H.S., et. al. Hydration status of horses performing endurance exercise: I. Evidence for a role of diet. COmparative Exercise Physiology. 2013.
  14. Jensen, R.B., et. al. The effect of dietary carbohydrate composition on apparent total tract digestibility, feed mean retention time, nitrogen and water balance in horses. Animal. 2014.
  15. Palmgren Karlsson, C., et. al. Effect of molassed sugar beet pulp on nutrient utilisation and metabolic parameters during exercise. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2010.
  16. Young, A., et. al. Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID). University of California Davis Veterinary Medicine Center for Equine Health. 2020.
  17. Jarvis, N.G., et. al. Nutrition of the Aged Horse. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice. 2009.
  18. Hansen, T.L., et. al. Postprandial Blood Glucose and Insulin Responses of Horses to Feeds Differing in Soluble Fiber Concentration. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2020.
  19. Jensen, R.B., et. al. The effect of feeding barley or hay alone or in combination with molassed sugar beet pulp on the metabolic responses in plasma and caecum of horses. Animal Feed Science and Technology. 2016.
  20. Jacob, S.I., et. al. Effect of age and dietary carbohydrate profiles on glucose and insulin dynamics in horses. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2017.
  21. Zeyner, A., et. al. Glycaemic and insulinaemic response of Quarter Horses to concentrates high in fat and low in soluble carbohydrates. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2010.
  22. Hallbeek, A.C and A.C. Beynen. Influence of dietary beetpulp on the plasma level of triacylglycerols in horses. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2003.
  23. Jafarzadeh-Moghaddam, M., et al. Sugar beet pectin extracted by ultrasound or conventional heating: a comparison. J Food Sci Technol. 2021.
  24. Oosterveld, A. Pectic substances from sugar beet pulp: structural features, enzymatic modification, and gel formation. Wageningen University. 1997.
  25. Common Feed Profiles (2004 – 2022). Equi-Analytical. Accessed December 1, 2023.
  26. Briggs, K., et.al. Feeding Beet Pulp. American Association of Equine Practitioners. Accessed Nov 2, 2023.
  27. Geor, R.J. et al. Chapter 17: Feedstuffs for Horses. Equine Applied and Clinical Nutrition: Health, Welfare and Performance. 2013.
  28. Jensen, R.B., et.al. A comparative study of the apparent total tract digestibility of carbohydrates in Icelandic and Danish Warmblood horses fed two different haylages and a concentrate consisting of sugar beet pulp and black oats. Archives of Animal Nutrition. 2010.
  29. Goff, J.P. Mineral absorption mechanisms, mineral interactions that affect acid–base and antioxidant status, and diet considerations to improve mineral status. Journal of Dairy Science. 2018.
  30. Ochonski, P., et.al. Caecal fermentation characteristics of commonly used feed ingredients. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2020.
  31. Grimm, P., et.al. Sugar beet pulp presentation alters intake behavior of horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2019.
  32. Ford, T. et al. Effect of Sugar Beet Pulp on the Composition and Predicted Function of Equine Fecal Microbiota. Biology. 2023.
  33. Ayoub. C. et al. Fecal microbiota of horses with colitis and its association with laminitis and survival during hospitalization. J Vet Intern Med. 2022.
  34. Li, Y. et al. Comparative Analysis of Gut Microbiota Between Healthy and Diarrheic Horses. Front Vet Sci. 2022.
  35. Brachet, M. et al. Hydration capacity: A new criterion for feed formulation. Animal Food Sci Tech. 2015.
  36. Humer, E. et al. Characterizing the Moisture Expansion of Common Single and Mixed Equine Feeds by Their Water-Holding Capacity and Nutrient Composition. J Equine Vet Sci. 2018.
  37. Briggs, K. Feeding Beet Pulp. AAEP. Accessed December 1, 2023.