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Feeding Beet Pulp to Horses: the Good and the Bad

Last updated: August 19, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

My journey with beet pulp began during a casual chat with friends who hailed its benefits for horses. Not commonly fed in my region, I was intrigued and felt the urge to dig deeper. Through my research, I discovered a myriad of opinions, and it became clear that there’s much to unravel about beet pulp’s advantages and possible shortcomings.

At a glance, beet pulp is great for horses—it aids digestion, promotes weight gain due to its high fiber and energy content, and offers the bonus of low sugar. Yet, it’s not without its flaws. It falls short in proteins, vitamins, and minerals essential for equine health, and its calcium concentration is notably high.

While beet pulp might not be the golden ticket to equine nutrition, it holds potential value in specific scenarios. Some argue it excites horses or leads to muscle weakness, yet others praise its benefits in treating ulcers and diarrhea. Let’s dive deeper, understand these claims, and assess how beet pulp can best serve our equine companions.

Picture of a horse eating beet pulp from a bucket,

What is Beet Pulp?

Beet pulp is more than just the “leftovers” from a process; it’s a valuable nutritional component for many horses. But what exactly is it, and where does it come from?

Beet Pulp is a By-product of the Sugar Beet Industry

Imagine a field filled with sugar beets, a root vegetable resembling a larger, whiter version of the common beet. These sugar beets are primarily cultivated for one thing: extracting sugar. Once the sugar is removed, what remains isn’t just discarded.

This residue, often considered ‘waste,’ is what we call beet pulp. So, essentially, what your horse might be munching on is a by-product of our own sweet indulgences!

Now, just because it’s a by-product doesn’t mean it’s lacking in nutrition. Beet pulp is rich in fiber, making it a wonderful source of digestible energy for horses. Think of fiber as the fuel your car needs to run—horses similarly derive energy from this fibrous content.

And here’s an interesting twist: even though it’s a by-product of the sugar extraction process, beet pulp is relatively low in sugar. So, while humans extract the sweet essence from the sugar beet, what remains for our equine friends is a nutritious feed that won’t cause a sugar high.

In essence, beet pulp offers a unique balance—a by-product turned beneficial, a sugar source that’s low in sugar, and a feed that’s both fibrous and easily digestible. The next time you consider horse nutrition, remember the humble beet pulp and its surprising journey from sugar field to stable.

The Good: Benefits of Feeding Beet Pulp

When it comes to feeding our equine companions, beet pulp stands out as a versatile and valuable component. But what makes it shine in the spotlight of horse nutrition?

It’s a Highly Digestible Fiber Source

In the vast world of equine nutrition, the term “fiber” is often thrown around, and for good reason. Fiber plays a pivotal role in a horse’s diet, acting as the engine that keeps their digestive system running smoothly.

Beet pulp emerges as a standout in this arena, offering a type of fiber that’s not only abundant but also exceptionally digestible. Let’s delve into why this particular source of fiber is gaining traction among horse enthusiasts.

  • Provides Slow-release Energy:
    One of the most notable attributes of beet pulp is its ability to provide steady energy. Unlike high grain diets that can cause rapid energy spikes (and sometimes, erratic behavior), beet pulp releases energy slowly, ensuring your horse has consistent fuel throughout the day.
  • A Boon for Digestive Health:
    Every horse owner dreads digestive issues. Beet pulp can be a godsend for horses with sensitive stomachs. Its fibrous content is not only gentle but also aids in smoother digestion.

Benefits Weight Gain and Maintenance

Every horse owner understands the challenges and intricacies of managing a horse’s weight. Whether you’re trying to help a lean horse gain a few pounds or ensure a high-performance horse retains its optimal weight, the right feed makes all the difference.

Enter beet pulp—a versatile feed component that’s making waves in both weight gain and maintenance scenarios. Let’s explore how beet pulp steps up to the plate in these crucial areas.

  • For the Lean Stallions and Mares:
    If you’ve got a horse that struggles to put on weight, beet pulp can be a game-changer. Its energy-rich composition aids in healthy weight gain without resorting to excessive grains.
  • High-performance Needs:
    For those equine athletes or hard workers, beet pulp supports maintaining their weight. It ensures they get the energy they need without compromising their performance or health.

Helps Hydration

Water is the unsung hero in the story of equine health. While the emphasis is often on nutrients and energy sources, hydration plays a crucial role in ensuring the overall well-being of a horse.

Beet pulp offers a unique angle to this narrative, doubling as both a nutritious feed and a hydration booster. Let’s dive into the hydrating prowess of beet pulp and its implications for your horse’s health.

  • A Natural Sponge:
    Beet pulp has an incredible ability to absorb water. When soaked, it can hold a significant amount of moisture, making it an excellent way to ensure your horse gets extra water in their diet.
  • Guard Against Impaction Colic:
    A hydrated digestive system is a happy one. With its water retention capacity, beet pulp helps prevent impaction colic, a concern many horse owners are familiar with.
Picture of a two year old horse

Has a Low Glycemic Index

Blood sugar stability is paramount for the overall health of a horse, especially for those with metabolic sensitivities. Feeds with a low glycemic index have been lauded for their ability to provide energy without causing abrupt spikes in blood sugar levels.

Beet pulp proudly wears the badge of being low glycemic, offering a safer energy source for many equines. Let’s delve into the significance of this trait and how it benefits our four-legged friends.

  • Metabolic Health in Mind:
    For horses with metabolic disorders or those on the edge of developing laminitis, beet pulp is a smart choice. With a low glycemic index, it doesn’t cause sharp spikes in blood sugar, ensuring metabolic health remains stable.

Includes Textural Benefits

Beyond the realm of nutrition, the texture of feed can play an influential role in both its appeal and its function. A meal’s texture can dictate a horse’s eagerness to eat and can also impact the quality of the feed itself.

Beet pulp introduces several textural advantages, enhancing the eating experience while also serving practical purposes. Let’s uncover the tactile treasures beet pulp brings to the equine dining table.

  • Dust Begone:
    No one likes a dusty feed, least of all your horse. Beet pulp acts as a binder, reducing dust in feed mixes and ensuring a cleaner, more appetizing meal.
  • For the Fussy Eaters:
    We all know a horse that turns its nose up at certain feeds. Beet pulp, with its soft texture when soaked, can make meals more palatable, tempting even the most discerning of equine taste buds.

In essence, beet pulp isn’t just another feed. It’s a blend of nutrition, hydration, and care that can enhance the well-being of horses in multiple ways.

Beet pulp is good for horses with diarrhea.

Beet pulp is often considered a good way to treat diarrhea in horses. To counter the effects of diarrhea, you need a feed that is high in fiber and dry content. This way, the excess liquid in the stomach that causes diarrhea becomes concentrated.

Beet pulp essentially helps horses with diarrhea by increasing the time the food in the mouth takes to reach the end of the intestines. The high amount of fiber is good at absorbing moisture and keeping the food in the stomach for a long while as it gets properly digested.

Check out my other article on how to treat or prevent diarrhea in horses.

Beet pulp is good for horses with ulcers.

Recently I was considering different feed options for a horse with ulcers and decided to research if beet pulp. What I found out surprised me in many ways; beet pulp is similar to alfalfa which is recommended for horses with ulcers.

Beet pulp is potentially good for horses with ulcers. A high source of soluble fiber, like beet pulp, is generally effective in preventing stomach ulcers. Lower amounts of starch in the diet, like in beet pulp, are also linked with lower chances of developing ulcers.

It is often recommended to increase the moisture content of a horse’s diet to prevent ulcers. The moisture helps buffer the acidity of the stomach. Beet pulp checks this box and is usually heavily soaked before feeding.

Beet pulp is good winter food.

Beet pulp is a healthy feed to include in your horse’s winter diet. In cold temperatures, horses are tempted to eat more food to generate more heat and keep their bodies hot. A downside of this can be an imbalance of proteins or sugar in their bodies which can cause all sorts of health issues.

Because beet pulp is low in sugar and proteins but high in digestible fiber, it is safe to feed large amounts in winter. It is good for the microbes in the hindgut and improves a horse’s digestive abilities. However, it’s worth mentioning again that a diet consisting of purely beet pulp is not healthy.

Horses are often reluctant to drink plain water in winter. So, beet pulp soaked in water can provide an easy way to keep your horse hydrated in the winter. A hydrated horse is also happy to go riding on winter and snowy days.

The Bad: Concerns and Misconceptions

Beet pulp is a favorite among many horse owners, but it’s not without its nuances. Delving deeper into its composition and characteristics, we uncover concerns and misconceptions that any potential user should be aware of. By debunking myths and understanding genuine concerns, we ensure our horses reap the benefits without facing potential pitfalls.

Not a Good Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio

Nutritional balance is the backbone of a horse’s diet. For beet pulp, a close look reveals a naturally skewed ratio between calcium and phosphorus.

  • Beet Pulp’s Natural Imbalance:
    While abundant in calcium, beet pulp tends to be lower in phosphorus. This skewed ratio doesn’t make it a no-go, but it’s something to be mindful of.
  • Balancing Act:
    It’s essential for horse owners to recognize this ratio and, if feeding beet pulp as a significant portion of the diet, adjust other feed components accordingly to ensure overall mineral balance.

Soaking Requirements

To soak or not to soak? That’s a question many horse owners grapple with when it comes to beet pulp.

  • The Great Soaking Debate:
    There’s considerable discussion about how long beet pulp should be soaked. Some argue for a quick soak, while others stress a longer duration.
  • The Soaking Slip-Ups:
    Hasty soaking can lead to potential hazards. Improperly soaked beet pulp might pose a choking risk. Additionally, if left too long, especially in warmer temperatures, fermentation can become an issue.

How long do you soak beet pulp before feeding?

Don’t soak beet pulp too long because it ferments and is unfit to feed. When this happens, the texture and odor are harsh, and you should discard them.

Beet pulp should be left in water for at least 30 – 40 minutes. Sometimes it can take up to two hours for the beet pulp to absorb the water. The absorption rate depends on your beet pulp quality, the amount of water, the temperature, and whether the pulp is in pellet form or shredded.

Sometimes the water can take up to two hours to get absorbed.

The recommended ratio is three to four parts water to one part beet pulp. Warm water gets absorbed faster than cold water. If the temperature is cold, fermentation takes longer, and also; shredded beet pulp soaks up moisture more efficiently than pellets or cubes.

Generally, you should periodically check the soaked beet pulp to ensure it isn’t giving off an unpleasant odor. Mix the beet pulp with other nutrient-rich foods like alfalfa or grass hay. If your horse is new to shredded or fiber-rich feeds, introduce the beet pulp slowly and see how it accustoms to it.

Has a Potential for Mold Contamination

Ensuring feed quality is paramount for any horse owner. Beet pulp’s storage demands are particularly crucial to prevent mold growth.

  • Storing Right:
    The key lies in keeping the beet pulp in a cool, dry place, ensuring it’s free from moisture that can promote mold growth.
  • Eyes on Mold:
    Periodic checks for any mold signs are essential. The presence of mold means that portion of beet pulp should be discarded, safeguarding the horse’s health.

Myth-Busting: The Sugar Content

Misconceptions often overshadow reality. One of the most persistent myths surrounding beet pulp relates to its sugar content.

  • Sweet or Not-so-sweet?:
    Contrary to some beliefs, the sugar extraction process leaves beet pulp predominantly low in sugar.
  • Molassed vs. Un-molassed:
    To add to the confusion, there are two primary types of beet pulp in the market: molassed (with some sugar content added back) and un-molassed (no added sugar). Knowing the difference empowers horse owners to make an informed feeding choices.

Navigating the concerns and misconceptions ensures that beet pulp serves as a benefit, not a bane. With knowledge in hand, horse owners can use this feed to its utmost potential.

picture of beet pulp in pellet form,

Recommendations for Feeding Beet Pulp to Horses

Beet pulp can be a valuable addition to a horse’s diet, but like any change, it should be approached with care and consideration. Here are some recommendations to ensure a smooth and beneficial incorporation of beet pulp into your equine companion’s diet.

Any dietary shift, even one as beneficial as beet pulp, should start slow. Begin by introducing small quantities into your horse’s feed, allowing them to acclimate to the new texture and taste. As you gradually increase the amount, keep a close eye on any changes in behavior, digestion, or overall health.

While beet pulp brings several benefits to the table, it shouldn’t overshadow the importance of a well-rounded diet. Use beet pulp as a supplementary feed, ensuring your horse still receives a mix of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from other sources. It should enhance their diet, not be the sole component.

Tips for Proper Soaking and Storage

Beet pulp often comes in a dehydrated form and requires soaking before feeding. To prevent issues like choking or fermentation:

  • Adhere to recommended soaking times. Generally, a few hours should suffice, but this can vary based on the specific product.
  • Use cold water in summer and warm water in winter for better absorption.
  • Store unsoaked beet pulp in a cool, dry place to prevent mold growth.

Pay Attention to the Specific Needs of Individual Horses

Just as each horse has its own personality, their dietary needs can differ too. While some might thrive on beet pulp, others might require adjustments:

  • Elderly horses: They may benefit from beet pulp due to its digestibility, but always monitor for any digestive issues.
  • Performance horses: These high-energy horses can harness the slow-release energy beet pulp offers, especially when balancing their high-carb intake.
  • Always consider any specific health issues, like metabolic disorders or dental problems, when deciding the beet pulp’s role in your horse’s diet.

By following these guidelines and always keeping your horse’s unique needs in mind, beet pulp can be a nutritious and beneficial addition to their diet.

The Nutritional Value of Beet Pulp

Beet pulp is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry. Once the sugar is extracted from the sugar beet, what remains is beet pulp, which is then often used as a fiber source in animal feeds, especially for horses. Here’s a general breakdown of the nutritional value of beet pulp:

| Nutrient              | Typical Value               |
| Dry Matter            | ~90%                        |
| Crude Protein         | 8-10%                       |
| Crude Fiber           | ~20%                        |
| Digestible Energy     | 2.0 - 2.9 Mcal/kg           |
| Fat                   | 0.5 - 1%                    |
| Calcium               | 0.5 - 1.2%                  |
| Phosphorus            | ~0.1%                       |
| Non-structural Carbs  | ~12% (or lower)             |
| Vitamins & Minerals   | Trace amounts (varied)      |

How much protein is in beet pulp?

I always like to watch my horse’s protein intake when feeding it supplements like beet pulp. Getting the numbers wrong can lead to some otherwise preventable digestive or performance problems.

Beet pulp generally contains 7 – 8% protein content. On average, adult horses, even those that don’t participate in strenuous exercise, need at least 12 – 13% protein in their feed, so beet pulp alone doesn’t give most horses enough protein.

Besides that, horses yet to mature or those involved in regular strenuous training or shows might need up to 20% protein. In that case, mixing beet pulp with a generous amount of alfalfa pellets or cubes might be the way to go.

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Beet pulp, with its myriad of benefits and a handful of concerns, stands as a topic of great interest in the equine community. This fibrous feed offers horses a source of digestible fiber, aids in weight gain, ensures hydration, has a low glycemic index, and even offers textural advantages in mixed feeds.

Yet, it’s imperative to be cognizant of its skewed calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, the importance of proper soaking, potential mold risks, and the varying sugar contents between its types.

While it’s clear that beet pulp can be a valuable addition to many horses’ diets, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every horse is unique— from the elderly companion enjoying retirement in the pasture to the high-performance athlete gearing up for the next competition.

Therefore, as horse owners, it becomes our responsibility to educate ourselves fully, weigh the pros and cons, and decide the role of beet pulp in our horse’s diet based on their individual needs. Through informed decisions and attentive care, we can ensure that our horses lead healthy, balanced, and fulfilling lives.


Is it better to feed your horse cubes or pellets?

Pellets may be easier for you to scoop and store, but they have the same nutritional value as cubes. Horses are individuals; some may do better eating cubes than pellets and vice versa. It’s really up to you and your horse. I wrote an article comparing Alfalfa cubes to pellets you may find interesting: Alfalfa Pellets vs. Cubes: What’s Better for Your Horses?

Do you have to feed your horse grain?

No, most horses do fine on a forage-only diet, but if you work your horse regularly, they need extra calories, and you should supplement their diet with grain.
You may find this article helpful; it goes into greater detail about feeding horses grain: Does a Horse Need Grain: Oats, Barley, Both or None?