Consider Beet Pulp Instead of Oats
By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.
Beet pulp is the pulp of the sugar beet plant, after the sugar has been removed. So the remaining pulp has virtually no sugar. If molasses is added to improve taste, it is low — less than 3% -- that’s approximately ½ cup of sugar in 10 lbs of beet pulp. And you likely wouldn’t feed anywhere near that amount — it takes 2 quarts of beet pulp to equal 1 lb, so 10 lbs would be 20 quarts!
Beet pulp contains 15% fiber, a little less than the 18% fiber typically required to be considered a forage. But it is still a good source of fiber because this 15% is mostly digestible fiber, meaning it is easily digested by the bacterial flora in your horse’s hindgut. And better yet, it doesn’t get digested in the foregut, so blood glucose levels are not affected. So it 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 Mcal/lb compared to oats, with 1.5 Mcal/lb.
It 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 labor 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 the same reason, you cannot rely on beet pulp calcium to offset a high phosphorus intake (from bran, for example).
Finally, beet pulp makes an excellent carrier for supplements or medications. If your horse is on hay or pasture, and you want to add a vitamin/mineral supplement, you need to add it to something. The supplement will mix in well with soaked beet pulp, and you won’t find it sifting to the bottom of the feed bucket. One more thing — be sure to add your supplement once you’re ready to feed; don’t soak it since prolonged water contact will destroy most vitamins.
After all these good aspects, there is one thing that you need to be aware of... the vast majority of beets grown in the US are genetically modified to withstand being sprayed with Roundup (Monsanto). This herbicide adds glyphosate to your horse's body and may have significant health consequences.* To avoid this, choose a non-GMO source of beet pulp since Roundup is not generally sprayed on this type of crop.**
* Please read, "Non-GMO is Not Necessarily Safe," by Dr. Juliet M. Getty
** Consider Speedi-Beet by Emerald Valley Equine
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For permission to reprint this article, in part or in its entirety, please contact Dr. Juliet Getty directly at Gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com.