Consider Beet Pulp Instead of Oats
By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.
Beet pulp is one of my favorite things to feed. It is the pulp of the sugar beet plant that remains after the sugar has been removed. This pulp has virtually no sugar. Even if molasses is added to improve the taste, the sugar content is low — less than three percent. That’s approximately a half-cup of sugar in ten pounds of beet pulp. And you likely wouldn’t feed anywhere near that amount – it takes two quarts of beet pulp to equal one pound, so ten pounds of beet pulp would be the equivalent of 20 quarts!
Beet pulp contains 15 percent fibre, a little less than the 18 percent fibre typically required to be considered forage. But it is still a good source of fibre because this 15 percent is mostly digestible fiber, meaning it is easily digested by the bacterial flora in your horse’s hindgut. Better still, it doesn’t get digested in the foregut, so blood glucose levels are not affected. So beet pulp has a low glycemic index and minimal insulin response, making it a wonderful feed for any horse that needs to reduce starch and sugar intake. And from a digestible energy (calories) perspective, beet pulp is right up there with the big cereal grains. It supplies 1.3 megacalories (Mcal) per pound, compared to oats, with 1.5 Mcal per pound.
Beet pulp comes in two forms — pellets and shreds. Pellets must be soaked to prevent choke. The shredded form can be fed dry, but soaking will ease your mind since it is very dry and some horses labour over chewing it. Soaking time depends on the water temperature. If you have hot water in your barn, the beet pulp shreds will soak this up almost immediately; pellets will require approximately 30 minutes. Cold water will take longer to soak up. But do not soak beet pulp overnight; bacteria and mold will accumulate.
Beet pulp is a good source of calcium, though not as high as alfalfa. Don’t worry about feeding too much calcium when offering beet pulp because much of the calcium is bound to oxalates, making it less absorbed. For this reason, you cannot rely on the calcium in beet pulp to offset a high phosphorus intake (from bran, for example).
Finally, beet pulp makes an excellent carrier for supplements or medications. Supplements will mix in well with soaked beet pulp, and you won’t find it sifting to the bottom of the feed bucket. Be sure to add your supplement once you’re ready to feed; don’t soak it since prolonged water contact will destroy most vitamins.
Dr. Juliet Getty is an internationally respected equine nutritionist available for private consultations and speaking engagements. At www.gettyequinenutrition.com, sign up for her informative—and free—monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought, read articles, join her nutrition forum, enroll in upcoming teleseminars and purchase previously recorded events. Contact Dr. Getty directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.