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beet pulp, Part 1

I keep trying to post this long-promised reprint of the beet pulp article that was in HoofPrints, but the first three times I tried it, it didn't show up.  Steph and I finally figured out this past weekend that the filters against that nasty virus weeded this out, too, so I'm going to try sending it in smaller batches and see if that works. :-)

Hope this is helpful to those that have been asking about beet pulp.  Cutting and pasting does funny things to tables, but hopefully it's readable.

Susan G


Myths and reality about beet pulp for horses (Part 1)

Susan Garlinghouse, MS

    Beet pulp is one of those feeds that is not only one of the most gratifying, but also one of the most frustrating to an equine nutritionist. Few feeds have as many myths and evil predictions associated with it. "It’ll swell up and rupture the horse’s stomach", "It’ll make them choke", "It has too much sugar", and "It has no nutritional value whatsoever" are just a few of the dire warnings floating around, none of which are in fact accurate. As with any other type of feed, understanding a little more about beet pulp’s nutritional content and effects on the body will help a horse owner understand where this useful feed can most profitably be incorporated into an equine ration.

    Beet pulp is the by-product resulting from the extraction of simple sugars in the manufacture of table sugar. Extraction processes being as efficient as they are, the remaining pulp has little or no sucrose in it and in fact, many feed manufacturers will add 3-5% molasses to increase the palatability and reduce pulp dust. Although many horse owners are concerned about feeding "too much sugar" in the form of molasses, 3-5% in ten pounds of beet pulp is equivalent to only 53 - 86 grams of simple sugars—about the same as that contained in two large apples.

    Feeds are generally categorized as either a forage, an energy feed or a protein supplement. Feeds with fiber content higher than 18% crude fiber are considered a forage and include all types of hay (including dairy-quality alfalfa or meal made from alfalfa), soybean hulls, almond hulls and ground corn cobs. Feeds that contain less than 18% crude fiber and also less than 20% crude protein are categorized as an energy feed and include all cereal grains, wheat and rice bran, fats and molasses. Feeds which contain less than 18% crude fiber and more that 20% crude protein are categorized as a protein supplement and include meals made from soybean, linseed and cottonseed, brewers yeast, sunflower seeds and dehydrated milk.

    Familiarity with these simple definitions is very helpful when comparing commercial feed mixes which often have vague or elusive label names or descriptions. Rather than trying to puzzle out whether a bag of Aunt Tilly’s Super Barnyard Rocket Fuel is really going to help your horse gain weight or is just another bag of lawn clippings, a quick look at the crude fiber and protein content will identify whether the product is an energy feed or just fifty pounds of high-priced hay.

    So where does beet pulp fit into these definitions? In fact, beet pulp doesn’t quite fit neatly into either the forage or the energy feed categories. At 10% crude protein and 18% crude fiber, beet pulp sits right on the edge between being a forage and an energy feed. Most nutritionists will refer to and utilize beet pulp as a forage, and therein lies much of the advantage. Compare the energy content of beet pulp with other grain and forage sources

Feed                             Energy                             Comparison

Type                             (Mcals/kg)                         to beet pulp

Vegetable oil                         8.98                                 385%

Corn grain                             3.38                                 145%

Wheat bran                             2.94                                 126%

Oat grain                                 2.85                                 122%

Beet pulp, dry                         2.33                                 100%

Alfalfa hay, early bloom             2.24                                 96%

Alfalfa hay, full bloom                 1.97                                 85%

Bermuda hay, 29-43 days growth 1.96                                 84%

Timothy hay, mid bloom             1.77                                     76%

Oat hay                                     1.75                                     75%

Orchardgrass hay, late bloom     1.72                                     74%

    Notice that although beet pulp is higher in calories than any of the forages, it is also lower in energy than any of the other cereal grains commonly fed to horses. Does this mean that beet pulp is less valuable for providing calories than any of the cereal grains? Not necessarily. While beet pulp is lower in energy pound for pound than grain, it is also lower on the glycemic index than any of the cereal grains. The glycemic index is a comparative indication of the simple sugar content of a food source. Feeds with a high glycemic index, such as corn, break down enzymatically to glucose very rapidly in the small intestine, quickly elevate the blood glucose levels and contribute to "hot" behavior that make early-morning, high-octane starts about as much fun as riding the Space Shuttle bareback. Feeds with a low glycemic index, such as beet pulp, are those that cause little or no sharp rise to blood glucose levels and generally provide most of their energy in the form of volatile fatty acids, the energy by-product of fermentation in the equine cecum and large colon. With the exception of fat (which is high energy but does not directly affect blood glucose level), the above table gives a good general ranking of glycemic index—corn grain being the highest, hays the lowest and beet pulp midway between the two extremes.

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