Beet Pulp: For Your Horse?
Shredded dried beet pulp is available plain and with added molasses.
What is beet pulp?
Out in the farm fields of the mid-to-western US grow endless rows of rotund bulb-like root plants known as Beta vulgaris, or beets - sugar beets, to be exact. Beet pulp is the shreddy remains of these beet roots after a process extracts their sugar. The sugar is for the human populace; the pulp is fed to animals.
How are sugar beets processed?
Sugar beets are mechanically harvested then transported to the sugar factory primarily by truck (in the old days by horse and wagon, or train) where they are dumped in huge piles for storage until processing. The first step in processing takes the beets through a high-speed conveyor/screening system that snips off any green leafy tops and shakes loose as much dirt and grit as possible from the plump roots. The beets are then put through a water washing system to remove the remaining dirt.
Next the clean beets are sliced by large rotating cutters into long thin strips (like French fries) called cossettes. The cossettes are conveyed to and gradually moved through continuous "diffusers" that utilize disinfectant-treated, hot, moving, soak water (122 to 176 degrees F) to diffuse and extract the sucrose from the pulp. Then the beets and their sugars part ways. The cossettes, or wet pulp shreds, are drained and pressed to remove the diffusion water (which is recycled back into the diffuser). The sugary liquid, called raw juice, contains typically between 10 and 15 percent sucrose, and is channeled away to the juice purification and sugar-making operations, taking with it 98 percent of the beets' sugar.
What happens to the wet beet pulp?
The pressed pulp, containing about 75 percent moisture, may or may not get molasses (a by-product of the sugar-making process) added to it. Molasses can be added while wet and/or during the drying and/or pelletizing process; some processing operations add it, some don't. The pulp is then put in heated rotating drum dryers (starting at 1700 degrees, decreasing to 700 degrees as the pulp dries) to dry it thoroughly (9 to 10% moisture). The heat-dried shredded pulp is sent to the dried pulp manufacturing operations to be bagged as shredded pulp or made into pellets for animal feed with molasses possibly being added again. Molasses adds palatability and contains iron and other minerals, but usually also contains preservatives.
Plain beet pulp shreds, dry
Is there any organic beet pulp?
In the US, unfortunately, no sugar beets are grown or processed organically. Herbicides are used during their growth, as are chemical fertilizers (the growing of sugar beets depletes the soil of its nutrients), fungicides, mold inhibitors, insecticides, and systemic insecticides. Sugar beets are hindered by several pests and diseases, but they generally have fewer problems with disease and pests when appropriate crop rotation is utilized.
Consumers demand organically grown and produced foods for health and food safety reasons - for themselves and for their animals. Concerns about the environment and the effects of the intensive agricultural production systems are other well-founded reasons. When one considers the innumerable problems - pesticide residues and other toxins from chemical applications, the devastating effects of genetically engineered and genetically modified organisms (GE, GMO) which are in most foods without the consumer's knowledge, and the problems with bovine spongiform encephalopathy and hoof-and-mouth, etc. - buying "organically grown and processed", at least under the current (but shaky) definition, is the best and safest option.
Genetically modified sugar beets have been produced and grown. However, due to market pressures ( Japan, who buys about 80% of the US beet pulp, refused the genetically engineered beet pulp, and a prominent chocolate candy maker refused the sugar), GE beets are reportedly no longer being grown.
Does this plant have a place on the horse's table?
Because it is a plant, and because horses are herbivores, Yes. It does have value as part of a horse's diet, as do many roots. Wild horses paw up roots and tubers to get them through the tough times. However, the fact that sugar beets are not "grown organically" means that the pulp contains toxins to some degree and lacks nutrients, and could be containing GMOs. If they are not "processed organically" it means that chemicals are likely added into the soak water or drying processes. Disodium cyanodithioimidocarbonate (DCDIC) is one microbicide/ microbistat specifically used as an industrial biocide and slimicide to control slime-forming bacteria, algae and fungi in the food processing water systems of beet sugar mills. DCDIC can be of concern for aquatic invertebrates depending on the location of the discharge sites.
Although beets start out as a natural root, being "processed" puts beet pulp in the category of un-natural feedstuffs such as pellets and cubes and extruded "cooked" feeds (many of which, including beet pulp pellets, may contain indistinguishable unwanted ingredients). To get the full nutritional value from a food, with its natural vitamins and its enzymes and probiotics (for optimum digestion) intact, plants need to be eaten fresh and raw, or naturally air/sun dried (like hay) rather than heat dried. But in the case of the fresh sugar beet, as a food it doesn't make much sense for the horse - its high sucrose content would render it as possibly only an occasional treat for a healthy horse (much better than giving sugar cubes or candies), or perhaps the leaves might be appropriate.
Alas, the human sugar habit has produced an abundant byproduct that makes for suitable fodder, and horses can benefit from the palatable byproduct's availability, if fed appropriately. Please note that beet pulp alone does NOT fill all of a horse's nutritional requirements.
Which horses can benefit from beet pulp?
Plain beet pulp shreds, soaked approximately 20 minutes
For horses who are underweight or are 'hard keepers', beet pulp fills the need for more feed without overfeeding grains, and provides an easily digested form of roughage.
For horses on light or no work who are 'easy keepers', but in need of supplemental nutrients, beet pulp can be the feed into which his supplements are added, rather than using grain.
Beet pulp (non-molasses) provides calories for energy without the sugars produced from the digestion of starchy oats and other grains, so as a feed for horses requiring low sugar intake, plain beet pulp may prove to be a mainstay. Beet pulp can be soaked, drained, and rinsed if it is suspected to contain unwanted molasses.
Beet pulp, one of the lowest potassium-containing fibers, is a suitable addition to the diet of HYPP horses.
Beet pulp can be valuable for the horse who has a sensitivity or allergy to hay or grain, or grasses. Such horses should be checked for sensitivity to beet pulp before feeding it. Hay and pasture are the horse's primary fiber sources, and fiber is required for gastrointestinal function and health. But if these cannot be eaten, or are in short supply, beet pulp is an excellent fiber option, for at least a portion of the ration.
Wetted beet pulp can be helpful in travel situations if a horse doesn't want to drink the water in new places. If he likes beet pulp, he will probably accept it well-wetted with the strange water, which may help him get used to the new water's taste.
For the elderly horse, or any horse who has difficulty chewing well, beet pulp's small shreds go down easy (once wetted with water or saliva), even if unchewed.
Some caretakers who regularly use kinesiology/ muscle testing to evaluate various feeds for individual horses have reported that many horses respond negatively to beet pulp. There can be a number of reasons why, and periodic re-testing will reveal if the situation changes.
Please note that horses with any of these difficulties can benefit from the help of a wholistic veterinarian/ practitioner with a whole-horse approach to the individual and situation, including complete nutritional guidance. Hay profiles are often the basis for devising or evaluating a nutritional program, so a laboratory hay analysis may be a requirement for nutritional guidance.
What nutrients are in non-molasses beet pulp?
Shredded beet pulp, without molasses, contains about 8% crude protein and about 20% crude fiber. Its basic nutritional values are similar to forage, but the fiber in beet pulp is more readily digested than typical grass hay fiber. Forage fiber is comprised mostly of insoluble lignin fiber, but beet pulp is comprised of high quality soluble fiber. This means that the bacterial population of the horse's hindgut utilizes the beet pulp fiber to make volatile fatty acids, an excellent, low-glycemic-index energy source that will not upset sugar metabolism. Oats, in contrast, do produce sugar from the digestion of their starch, and rich grasses and hays can contribute unwanted sugars. Therefore, beet pulp (without molasses or sugar) can be an excellent alternative energy source for horses with insulin resistance, polysaccharide storage myopathy, exertional rhabdomyolysis, and other metabolic disorders or conditions in which even a small amount of sugar may be a problem. Beet pulp is easy on laminitic and colic-prone horses as well.
Nutritional breakdown of non-molasses beet pulp (variation occurs among manufacturers):
Crude protein 6 - 9%
Crude fat 0.3 - 0.7%
Crude fiber 18 - 22%
Sugars 0.3 - 0.4%
Total digestible nutrients (TDN) 65 - 75%
Megacalories per pound 1.3
Digestible protein 5%
Calcium 0.75 - 1.72%
Phosphorus 0.08 - 0.1%
Boron 45 ppm (parts per million)
Manganese 86 ppm
Zinc 21 ppm
Copper 16 ppm
Iron 308 ppm
Aluminum 259 ppm
Sodium 911 ppm
Beet pulp - wet, dry, and as silage - is fed to cows, sheep, and other livestock and is becoming more frequently used in dog and cat formulas and treats. Beet pulp shreds are available in 40 lb. bags from most feed suppliers.
Digesting beet pulp
The beet pulp shreds - wet or dry, mixed with feed or alone - are moistened with saliva as they are chewed, then swallowed. The acids and enzymes in the stomach start breaking down the food particles and proteins. The stomach contents move into the small intestine, where enzyme activity further breaks down the contents into nutrients that can be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the blood, and carried to the cells. What isn't absorbed, particularly fiber (beet pulp's main constituent), passes into the cecum (the fermentation vat), where it is broken down by microbes to produce certain vitamins and volatile fatty acids that will be mostly absorbed by the large intestine (colon) where further microbial activity and absorption, including water absorption, occur. What's left undigested is passed as fecal balls, or manure.
Although beet pulp is an enzyme-less, 'dead' processed food, its highly digestible soluble fiber enables the beneficial bacteria in the cecum and colon to thrive, thus ensuring very efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients in that part of the digestive system.
General feeding directions:
Beet pulp shreds can be fed alone or mixed with other foods.
Beet pulp shreds can be fed dry. Horses who chew adequately and do not already have a problem with choke do fine with this. (See your wholistic veterinarian/ practitioner for treatment for horses who choke.)
To feed wet, mix with pure water to moisten; soaking for approximately 20 minutes in water to cover is adequate. In the summer, however, it should be soaked for a minimum amount of time, because souring occurs more readily in the heat.
Beet pulp, like any processed horse feed, may or may not be for your horse or your horse's situation. It has its advantages and disadvantages, and each horse should be considered individually. For many, it is proving to be a valuable addition to the diet - and in some cases, it is the best maintenance alternative.
For more information:
Glycemic Index of Practical Horse Feeds (Research
by Anne Rodiek, Dept. Animal Sciences and Agricultural Education
California State University, Fresno
Susan Evans Garlinghouse articles (very fun
The Myths and Reality of Beet Pulp -
Beet Pulp Safety
Warning (aka the famous squirrel story) -
Organic Consumers Association
American Sugarbeet Growers Association
1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 1101
Washington, DC 20005
American Sugar Alliance
2111 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22201
About the Sugar Beet
The sugar beet is a member of the family Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot family) and is a root vegetable (as are carrots and turnips). Root vegetables are cost-effective, nutritious food - not only do they grow well in a variety of climates, they also store well in cool, dark places for months (such as a root cellar). Nutritionally, they are packed because roots and tubers are the underground storage parts of plants, containing carbohydrates, some protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, micronutrients, and other nutrients important for health and longevity.
The sugar beet, somewhat different from the common beet, has a large, round, sweet white root in which it stores its abundant sugar, or sucrose. Sucrose is created through photosynthesis in the leaves of the sugar beet, and then deposited in its root. The Greeks and Romans used the leaves as food and as a medicinal herb for headaches, inflammation of the eyes, and against venomous creatures. The chopped roots were believed to have great remedial powers during the Middle Ages and were used as a laxative/diuretic.
Being a temperate climate biennial (2-year) root crop, the sugar beet produces its sugar during the first year of growth to feed itself through the winter; in its second year it flowers and goes to seed. Sugar beet crops are sown in spring and harvested in fall in the first year.
Typical sucrose content for mature beets is by weight 17%, depending on climate, location, growing practices (crop rotation is beneficial), and variety of beet. Since the 1700s, selective breeding has increased the root's sucrose content from about 2% to as much as 20%. This exceeds the sucrose content in equal weight of sugar cane, but sugar cane puts out more yield per acre. Either way, the sweet tooth of America is kept satisfied by the busy sugar farmers - cane and beet. In the US, sugar beets are grown extensively from Michigan to Idaho and in California, accounting for more than half of the country's sugar production. Beet sugar accounts for 30% of the world's sugar production.