When there is a hay shortage, lots of folks look for other forms of forage for their horses and one of those is beet pulp. Dr. Burt Staniar from Penn State indicates in Equus Magazine that beet pulp is a fiber just like hay but the fiber is more easily digestible so the energy and calories it provides are available much quicker to the horse than hay. It also is a good choice for older horses with dental problems and is commonly one of the ingredients in complete feed for older horses. Also, beet pulp helps maintain the normal microbial populations in the intestine, which helps prevent digestive problems.
Another reason to include beet pulp in the diet is it contains very little sugar as although initially called sugar beet pulp, all the sugar has been extracted and makes it an excellent feed for horses with equine metabolic syndrome that are insulin resistant. In some cases, molasses is added to beet pulp to make it more palatable and this is okay unless your horse is insulin resistant. Also, horses with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis or HYPP should avoid beet pulp with molasses so look for plain beet pulp.
However, if you cannot find beet pulp without molasses, soaking the beet pulp will remove most of the molasses but if your horse is insulin resistant, I would not take that chance. So, if you are running low on hay for the winter, beet pulp can help to replace some of the fiber that horses need. However, you can’t replace all the hay in your horse’s diet with beet pulp because the calcium phosphorus ratio is 10:1 so beet pulp should not make up more than 10% of the horse’s diet. Since beet pulp is routinely added to many feeds, it is probably better to choose a commercial feed containing beet pulp that is properly balanced rather than trying to add beet pulp and get the balance correct.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.