In which the miraculous nature of beet pulp is discussed and lauded
Jane's horse Hudson is having tummy troubles.
Jane, and Hudson's former owner Bella, have always done right by Hudson, but his manure has been loose for years, and he's not masticating thoroughly enough now to process his food properly. After a visit from the vet AND the equine dentist, and supplementing Hudson's feed with some electrolytes, he's back to his old feisty self...
but he ain't getting younger, and Jane suspects that adding in some easily-digested feed may help her big guy.
BEET PULP TO THE RESCUE!
Beet pulp is the "stuff" left over after the usable sugar is extracted from sugar beets. It's extruded into pellets or shreds, bagged up into 40-pound sacks, and sold as a livestock feed.
Beet pulp is commonly fed to endurance horses. The soaked feed is easy to chew/swallow, easy to digest, and supplies only slightly more calories than good quality hay, and fewer calories than an equivalent weight of oats. Beet pulp contains about 10% protein, .8% calcium and .5% phosphorus, making it a more balanced source of energy and fiber than wheat bran.
Researchers have found that beet pulp can comprise up to 50% of a horse's healthy diet. Fiddle (who is not an easy keeper) prefers beet pulp to hay, and she eats a huge amount of beet pulp compared to many horses:
8 cups of dry pellets + water = 2.5 gallons for breakfast,
and the same amount for dinner.
(For reference purposes: Fiddle is 10 years old, 15.3 hands, about 1100 pounds, and does 10-20 miles of trails each week, plus a dressage lesson. She has a huge engine, and requires a lot of fuel to keep her engine going!)
The high fiber content of beet pulp seems to normalize fermentation in the horse's large colon, resulting in more efficient digestion overall, which is why many hard-keeper horses (like Fiddle) thrive on beet pulp. It's relatively cheap, stable, easy to store, easy to feed, and horses actually like it. Amazing, I know.
HERE is a rational-yet-readable description of beet pulp, penned by equine nutritionist Susan Garlinghouse DVM.
The pellets we buy as animal feed have had the sugar removed--that's the first use for raw sugar beets. Pelleted or shredded beet pulp is actually a secondary product of the sugar-making process; therefore, the feed has a very low glycemic index. Be aware that some feed companies add molasses to pelleted beet pulp in order to increase palatability. A bag of unsweetened beet pulp will smell slightly sweet; a bag of sweetened beet pulp, by comparison, smells like a Jamaican rum factory.
If you are unsure if your beet pulp is sweetened (the tag on the sack isn't always helpful), soak a cup of it in a gallon of water. If the water turns brown, there is molasses added (you can throw the brown water out and add clean water--beet pulp sweetener rinses away very easily).
If your horse turns up his nose at unsweetened beet pulp (rare), consider adding a SMALL amount of molasses to the mix at first. If glycemic index is a concern for your horse, mix in a cup of unsweetened applesauce instead of molasses. Gradually decrease the "candy" additive over a week, and you will probably find that your horse will soon be licking the unsweetened bowl clean.
Beet pulp famously soaks up a phenomenal amount of water, which the horse takes in as part of the beet pulp feed. Since hydration is a major concern for hard-working endurance horses during competition and training, any feed that will get water inside an endurance horse is considered a Good Thing.
|High-tech, custom-designed beet pulp hydration device|
(If you have never soaked a bucket of beet pulp, please visit THIS LINK before reading further on this post. Ladies of a certain age are cautioned to urinate before reading the Famous Squirrel Story).
When discussing beet pulp feed on public forums, it seems there's always some well-intentioned but mis-informed person who bleats out some old and bad "research" that "proves" how horribly dangerous beet pulp (especially dry, unsoaked beet pulp) is as an animal feed, and how it soaks up water from the horse's intestines until the horse explodes. Proper research has disproved this. Beet pulp can be fed dry, but soaked beet pulp is better if hydration is an issue for the horse.
Beet pulp by itself is not a cause of choke; however, if your horse is prone to choking on other feeds, by all means heavily soak your beet pulp, serve it in small amounts, and consider adding some two-fist-sized rocks to the horse's feed pan to keep him from gulping his food.
Soaking beet pulp isn't a complicated process:
- take a SMALL amount of pellets,
- add a LARGE amount of water.
- Then, stand back.
|8 cups of beet pulp pellets, soaked in 2.5 gallons of water for an hour. |
Looks like the stuff inside the pencil sharpener.
The feed should expand enormously and reach the consistency of soft pencil-shavings in 30-60 minutes.
I generally mix up the morning ration of beet pulp and water at night, as soon as I finish feeding the animals their dinner. For the evening ration, I throw it all together in the covered plastic bucket as soon as I've fed breakfast.
I *do* cover the feed while it soaks to keep vermin out. At the barn where I boarded in past years, beet pulp was soaked without a cover, and the barn rats were enormously fat. (So were the barn dogs....my floofs consider beet pulp a rare delicacy!)
In a warm climate, I would probably mix up the beet pulp closer to mealtime to avoid it going "sour." That's rarely a problem here. Alternately, you might mix up batches in ziplock baggies and stash them in a refrigerator for barn staff to feed, if you are in a boarding situation...has anyone done this? I often mix beet pulp inside a gallon-sized ziplock bag to send to vetchecks during a competition, so that part works fine.
As with all new feeds, add beet pulp to the diet gradually, in small amounts. A half-cup to a cup of dry pellets plus water could be fed once each day for a week. Increase the quantity slowly.
Pro tip from Hana: Throw in a carrot or two to encourage your horse to explore the new feed all the way to the bottom of the pan!