Beet Pulp

Beet pulp is a by-product of sugar production but for some reason there is more negative and inaccurate information floating around on the internet about beet pulp than any equine feed ingredient you can name.

SUGAR BEETS

Beet pulp is the fibrous portion of the sugar beet below ground root which remains after it has been soaked in hot water to remove the sugar. It has a calorie yield similar to oats but because it is fermented like hay does not produce a blood sugar spike like grains do. Even if the pulp has high residual sugar or had molasses added to it, careful thorough rinsing, soaking and rinsing again can remove that to make it safe even for horses with insulin resistance.

Beet pulp can absorb 4 times its dry weight in water, which results in a high volume but low calorie meal and a good way to get extra water and supplements into the horse.  It has good protein levels of 9 to 10% and is a good source of calcium. It can help substitute for hay as a fiber source during periods of shortage.

Those are the facts. Here are some of the unsubstantiated claims.

Myth: Beets are treated with a chemical defoliant to kill the top leaves before they are harvested. Completely untrue. The leaves are removed mechanically.

Myth: Beet pulp also contains the leaves and can cause oxalate poisoning. False. There are no leaves in beet pulp and oxalate levels are very low.

Myth: Production of the pulp involves many harsh chemicals. Nope. No chemicals are used in the production of the pulp, which is what remains after hot water soaking of the beet roots.  The only chemicals involved are low levels of antimicrobials/biocides to control bacterial growth in the sugar water. The most common is hydrogen sulfide, which is also the biocide used to preserve wines.

Myth: Beet pulp causes hind end weakness and muscle loss. This doesn’t even make any sense. The person claiming this tries to claim it is because oxalate in beet pulp (see above) ties up calcium and causes the horse to not be able to digest/absorb nutrients properly. Again, this is science fiction. Oxalate toxicity is a real thing, but not from beet pulp, and interfering with digestion and absorption is not one of the effects in any case.

Myth: Beet pulp is high in insoluble fiber and poorly digestible. Exactly the opposite is true. It is lower in insoluble fiber than grass/hay, high in soluble fiber and very easily digested in the large intestine by fermentation.

Another criticism, that much beet pulp is now from GMO plants, will be addressed in detail in another blog. For now, I just want to address that glyphosate/Roundup residues in sugar made from GMO beets is zero – undetectable. Levels I have seen for the pulp are also extremely low, less than 1 ppm. This is not surprising considering that glyphosate is water soluble and the beets undergo extensive washing and soaking.

There will always be horses that do not do well on particular feed ingredients but there is no reason to universally condemn  beet pulp.  It is an excellent diet addition for most horses.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
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39 Responses to Beet Pulp

  1. Thank you for your whole efforts on this site. Kate take interest in carrying out internet research and it’s really easy to understand why. Most of us notice all about the compelling medium you make priceless things through this website and therefore welcome contribution from people on this content and our girl is really discovering a whole lot. Enjoy the rest of the new year. Your conducting a splendid job.

  2. Jean says:

    Thanks for all the good info – it would be great if you could add “search” to this blog.

  3. Jean McLain says:

    Dr. Kellon,
    There is an extremely active group on Facebook – OTTB Connect – https://www.facebook.com/groups/357152907686735/ with nearly 24,000 members. The misinformation floating through there is unbelievable, particularly regarding nutrition, beet pulp, and every day a new post about “how do I help my horse gain weight”. There are so many positives, but it would be great if you had a chance to join and just chime in every now and then, or perhaps provide a link to one of your wonderful articles. Thanks

  4. PIEDSdENFER says:

    Compoqsition of a brand of beet pulp with no molasses added:

    Calcium % 1.21
    Phosphorus % 0.07
    Sodium % 0.04
    Potassium % 0.227
    Magnesium % 0.16
    Chloride % <0.1
    Sulphur % 0.27

    Copper mg/kg 3.04
    Manganese mg/kg 62.7
    Zinc mg/kg 13.1
    Iron mg/kg 480
    Selenium mg/kg 0.09

    The Iron content is very high. Would that not be an important argument against beet pulp ?

  5. Vonda says:

    Herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides are used in all crops at times, even organic (organic does NOT mean pesticide-free). There is a withdrawal time before harvest to make sure that residues, if any, are under acceptable levels. I don’t think it’s fair to single out Beet Pulp in this regard.

  6. Lori/Jet says:

    I have a horse recently diagnosed with Cushing’s, wanted to know if beet pulp would be a good way to add supplements? Should it be pellets or shredded? How long do you soak it? I asked at my local feed store today and both versions have molasses, is that ok with an IR and PPID horse?
    Thanks for your help

  7. ksamurai1 says:

    Thank God for a professional opinion about the beet pulp controversy. I’ve never had any problems feeding it “soaked” in 40 years. It’s only recently everyone thinks they’re an expert and started negative rumours. Let’s just get over it and feed it without all the worries.

  8. Lori says:

    I feed beet pulp as a warm mash in our -45 winters here in Canada morning and night as a supplement to not the best hay quality. I have a friend who’s horse has cushings and is an older horse that she cannot keep weight on. I try to tell her to try beet pulp but she refuses due to the cushings issue. Is there enough sugar in it to affect her horse? (especially due to his lack of weight maintenance)

    • Julie Wood says:

      I feed warm soaked suger beet to my 21 yr old horse that has Cushings… he does very well on it.

    • Nancy says:

      Most of the sugar is removed from the beet when processed. If it further removed when you soak and rinse. You can see an average of testing data at equi-analytical.com

    • uckeleequine says:

      Cushing’s (PPID) horses often develop insulin resistance which means their sugar and starch intake needs to be controlled. Beet pulp is usually very safe but when there are bumper crop years the processors may decrease extraction times to make sure they get all the beets processed, leading to higher sugar levels in the pulp. However, if you follow the protocol of thorough rinsing, then soaking, then rinsing again, the pulp will be safe.

      Dr. Kellon

  9. Nancy says:

    Thanks Dr Kellon for this much needed article.

  10. Beth ann says:

    I’d like to see you address GMO. I do not feed beet pulp because it is GM. I feed only organic feed.

  11. Dianna says:

    Why do some horses get “gassy” when fed beet pulp? I’ve fed beet pulp for years & now have a horse who gets gassy when I feed it. I also have a friend who’s horse gets gas colic when fed beet pulp. Is there a way to alleviate the gas production so beet pulp can be fed to these horses?

    • majolaine says:

      do you soak it and for how long before feeding and at what temperature?
      max 12 hrs soak and always in fresh cool place.

    • uckeleequine says:

      I can’t be certain but the likely explanation is the microbial population in the individual horses intestinal tract. Research on this is in its infancy but we do know there is considerable difference between individuals in their microbial population. If we knew more, there might be a way to help those horses by targeted supplementation of specific probiotic strains – but we don’t have that knowledge currently so if very gradual introduction, giving the organisms time to adapt, doesn’t work you should just switch to another type of feed.

      Dr.Kellon

  12. Julie Congleton says:

    Can you address the issue relating to CHOKE and Beet Pulp. I know of people who do not soak beet pulp and feed it without any choke….we see dry beet pulp in feeds……and yet I hear people tell me that beet pulp swells in their horse and has caused choke. Do you have to soak it or not; and is there a time of soaking that is most beneficial? Hot weather and soaking and fermentation issues, is another question I hear amongst horse people. I mention this because of early morning feeds when people are flying in and out of the barn to get a horse fed in ten minutes….should they soak it overnight, or is that really necessary? And this question is related to Non-IR horses that enjoy a diet that includes beet pulp. And I did read the information relating to getting more water into the horse, always a bonus:) Why has beet pulp become so expensive here on the east coast, if you know. It has risen appx. $8 per bag in the past five years….

    • ksamurai1 says:

      Choke can be caused by your horse having dental problems. I’m sure the soaked beet pulp had nothing to do with it.

    • uckeleequine says:

      Beet pulp has become more expensive because it is an ever increasing source of soluble fiber. Choke is an incompletely understood problem that likely involves dental issues, eating habits as well as neurological degenerative changes (proven and documented in humans but not yet in horses).

      Many commercial feeds, including senior feeds, incorporate dried beet pulp very successfully and studies have shown that horse can eat dried beet pulp with no choking issues. That said, there will be individuals that have issues. Soaking for 15 to 30 minutes (shorter with hot water) will rehydrate the pulp and eliminate the problem.

      Dr.Kellon

  13. KB says:

    I live where a lot of sugar beets are grown. The sugar beets in SW Idaho are round up ready, yet receive aerial sprays several times prior to harvest. The beets also may lay out in the rain and snow and freezing for several months before processing. Some are rotten before they get hauled to the plant for processing. I am not convinced that our animals should be eating all that nor should we getting it in our sugar.

    • uckeleequine says:

      Unless certified organic,all of our foods are exposed to herbicides and pesticides before we get them. Do we need more information? Yes. My point here though is that there is no reason to focus on beet pulp compared to other feed ingredients. Rotten beets will not be processed because regardless of whether the damage is from freezing and thawing or bacterial breakdown the sugar in the beets is destroyed. As for the Roundup, without claiming it is perfectly safe I can say it is much safer than other herbicides used on it in the past and there is zero detectable Roundup in the finished sugar.

      Dr.Kellon

  14. Kathy says:

    Also, I find that most people I talk to who have their horse on beet pulp, don’t know why they are doing it. Someone (vet, friend or feed store) has told them it is going to help. They give it to their horse and never stop. Never bothering to gain an understanding of what may be happening to their horse to cause them to have to use it or if there is an alternative. Equine senior and beet pulp are the “bigger bit and tie-down” of the Equine feed industry.

    • uckeleequine says:

      The major reason for feeding beet pulp is to provide safe calories – equivalent to oats without the blood sugar and insulin rise. Also a good way to get extra water into the horse.

      Dr Kellon

  15. Kathy says:

    You did not discuss the level of herbicide/pesticide spraying and chemical fertilizers that go into the soil and onto the plant to grow beets.

    • uckeleequine says:

      Yes, I did – when talking about glyphosate/Roundup use on GMO beets. The total exposure to chemicals is actually less for GMO crops because they can be used earlier in the growth stage of the plant. The bottom line though is how much ends up in the things we are feeding our horses and there is no evidence at all that it is higher with GMO beets.

      Dr. Kellon

      • vanessa says:

        Surely the bottom end should include the ammounts and types of pesticides and herbicides used in the growing of beets, and the damage they are doing to the environment. Beets here in uk are not very agressive in growth and will not compete with other plants and pests, resulting in many sprays, staring before the seed is even sown.

      • uckeleequine says:

        Yes and no. The bottom line for the horse is how much is actually ending up in their diet. Bottom line for the environment is not just the use of herbicides but the impact on the environment per se of that use.

        Dr.Kellon

  16. Marcy says:

    Thanks so much for putting this out there Dr. Kellon. I have a horse that stopped drinking during our recent ice storm and the only way I kept her hydrated was with sloppy beet pulp. I love the stuff and think it also helps to prevent colic.

  17. Monica says:

    Regarding the report of beet pulp causing hind end weakness-
    Years ago, I had a senior gelding that I had been feeding beet pulp for about a year, always the same brand. When I went to my feed store to buy more beet pulp, they had a different brand in stock on this particular day, so I purchased that. Within 24 hours of eating this new beet pulp my gelding started having great difficulty getting up after laying down. I had the vet out immediately and he could not determine a cause, other than the horse was experiencing a sudden onset of a neurological disorder. At this point I had not thought that the beet pulp might be the culprit, so it was not even discussed. By the end of the second day, I realized that the only thing that had changed in this gelding’s situation was the change in beet pulp brands, some stopped feeding the beet pulp and within 24 hours the gelding was back to normal. I went back to feeding the original brand with no further incident. I will never know what was in that feed, but it produced a severe reaction in my gelding. If I hadn’t figured it out, he would have had to be put down. I didn’t have the funds for extensive testing and treatment. While I have not personally heard of similar incidents, maybe there have been some, hence this person’s comment about hind end weakness.

    • uckeleequine says:

      The hind end weakness I was referencing was said to occur after long term feeding. We’ll never know for sure of course but your situation, assuming it was really related to the beet pulp, may have been something like a fungal toxin. These can produce problems at very low levels and without any obvious visible molding.

      Dr. Kellon

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