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Beet Pulp: The Ultimate Fibre for HorsesBy Dr. Clarissa Brown-Douglas · November 30, 2011

The importance of forage, most often in the form of pasture or hay, in all horses’ diets is well-known by most horsemen. Forage supplies fibre, a dietary component that undergoes microbial fermentation in the hindgut of the horse. This fermentative process produces volatile fatty acids, which are important sources of energy for horses. Fibre can supply a horse with up to 30-70% of its digestible energy requirements.

While forages such as pasture, hay, and chaff are well-known sources of fibre, other feedstuffs are considered “super fibres” because they have energy levels much higher than typical forages. Common super fibres including soy bean hulls and beet pulp. The energy levels in super fibres are similar to those found in grains such as oats and barley. Super fibres are, however, safer to feed than cereal grains because they provide cool, slow-release energy, and their fibrous nature reduces the likelihood of grain overload.

One of the most commonly fed super fibres is beet pulp, which is more digestible than traditional fibre sources. For instance, hay is 40-60% digestible, depending on its quality, and beet pulp is 70-80% digestible.

Beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar industry. After the sugar has been extracted from sugar beets, the fibrous portion of the sugar beet is dehydrated. The end result is a high-fibre shred that contains little to no sugar. Beet pulp is used as an ingredient in horse feeds by feed manufacturers in many countries. Some horsemen might also add it separately to a ration to boost the fibre content. Up until recently beet pulp has been scarcely available in Australia; however, Barastoc has just released two new feeds that contain this hugely beneficial super fibre.

Contrary to popular belief, beet pulp does not have to be soaked before feeding. Most Australian horse owners who have fed beet pulp in the past will have soaked the product. Although this certainly helps to encourage the horse to ingest water, soaking beet can be a hassle as it must be drenched for each feeding. Once soaked, the beet can quickly ferment, especially in hot conditions, making it unusable. When beet pulp is used as an ingredient in muesli or pelleted feeds, it does not have to be soaked before feeding, removing an inconvenient step in the process.

The benefits of feeding beet pulp are numerous. Performance horses can benefit from super fibers, especially those animals asked to perform at moderate speeds for long distances. In addition to being a cool energy source for horses, super fibres help maintain intestinal health. Consumption of fibre can increase water intake, creating a holding tank of water and electrolytes in the hindgut. This reservoir may prevent dehydration and electrolyte depletion during an exercise bout. Endurance horses, for instance, have only limited time to eat during a ride. An appetising, fibre-rich meal containing beet pulp can supply the horse with sufficient energy to remain competitive. Horses on diets composed largely of concentrates (grains) may be unwilling to eat large amounts of hay. In these instances, fibre can be introduced into the concentrate as beet pulp. Due to the high energy content, beet pulp is also ideal for horses that have difficulty maintaining weight.

Beet is also helpful for those horses that will not or cannot eat large enough quantities of hay to fulfil fibre requirements. Dental problems, for example, may keep aged horses from consuming sufficient hay or pasture. In this situation, fibre should be offered in other forms and beet pulp is an ideal substitute.

Horses that do not tolerate diets high in starch will also benefit from beet pulp in their diets. Horses afflicted with “tying-up” or recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER) or polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) often find relief when fed diets low in starch and sugar. When super fibres such as beet pulp are fed to these horses, much of the energy necessary to support exercise is derived from fibre and not starch or sugar.

Adding beet pulp to the diets of horses will provide an alternative source of energy in the ration and can help to decrease the horse’s reliance on grain. An added benefit to the use of beet pulp is the positive effects it has on preserving gastrointestinal health through maintaining digestive motility and the health of the microbes within the hindgut.