(This is a re-post from my previous blog, ‘The Handy Horse Owner’)
With the wide assortment of commercial bagged feeds available today, many horse owners can become overwhelmed when trying to choose the best feed for their horse. A few years ago, I went back to the basics, feeding such things as whole oats, rice bran, and beet pulp.
If you look at feed labels, these are common ingredients in most commercial feeds, but you can buy them individually much cheaper usually. I’d like to focus on beet pulp for this post though–many folks just aren’t aware of what it is or what it can do for the horse.
When you look at beet pulp, it hardly looks edible, but the horses don’t seem to notice. A by-product in the table sugar-making process, beet pulp surprisingly contains relatively little sugar itself. Manufacturers usually add molasses for palatibility and to reduce dust, though. Beet pulp contains approximately 10% protein and 18% fiber, making it easily digestible. It comes in shreds or pellets, but most prefer the shredded form.
There are quite a few myths surrounding the feeding of beet pulp (despite the fact that it’s a common ingredient in many commercial feeds). One feed store owner told me it would ‘swell up’ in the horse’s stomach and cause colic. Others have said it causes choke or has no nutritional value. These myths have all proven to be false, however.
While you wouldn’t want to feed beet pulp as your sole source of nutrition since it’s relatively low in vitamin and mineral content, it’s great as a ‘carrier’ for minerals, (this is why I feed it) and it can also be fed mixed with another feed such as oats, rice bran, etc. Most people choose to soak beet pulp before feeding, but it can be fed dry. The following are some of the benefits of beet pulp:
- Can be used as a forage replacer (up to 25-50% of forage) for horses who can’t eat hay or when hay is in limited supply;
- Helps ‘hard-keepers’ hold weight and can safely help underweight horses gain wieght;
- Acts as a pre-biotic, setting up favorable conditions for the ‘good bacteria’ to grow in the horse’s gut;
- Contains relatively low sugar content, making it safe for obese, insulin-resistant, or laminitic horses in most cases (use non-molasses beet pulp or soak and rinse for the least amount of sugar); and
- Safe to feed for older horses with dental problems when served as a mash.
Beet pulp may not be the answer for every horse, but I’ve fed it to my horses for the last few years as part of a forage-based diet and have been very happy with it. It may be something you’d like to add to your feeding program as well.