Beet Pulp: It's Not Just For Winter
Our Love Affair- With Beet Pulp!
I’m not writing this blog post to convince anyone to feed beet pulp mash. I’m simply sharing what we learned when we fed beet pulp mash—and a lot of it—for over 20 years! The story of our experience with beet pulp mash is below, but if you want to skip straight to the interesting facts about beet pulp mash (and I keep repeating "mash" because we NEVER fed the dry pellets) click here and you'll go straight to that part of this blog.
Our experience with beet pulp mash started out as a way to help our horses stay hydrated through bitter cold winter nights in Colorado, and led to discovering a valuable feed resource— a resource that became especially helpful during the years when drought made hay very hard to buy in Colorado. By “hard to buy”, I mean that local hay dealers were rationing hay-only a certain number of bales per customer. Scary times.
When we first moved to New York, my new friends all assumed that because we lived in the West, we were strangers to cold winter weather. Little did they know that while Coloradoans have more sunny winter days and don't have the snow accumulation that’s common in a New York winter, the snow that we did see looked like the star field from a Sci Fi movie as it hurtled by on it’s way to New Mexico from it’s home in Wyoming. Our barn was a functional yet humble metal pole barn. No insulation. No heated water buckets or insulated bucket holders. When an arctic cold front would blast through, water buckets froze solid.
Usually, this nonsense wouldn’t last much longer than a week. We had 24 horses and 50 water buckets so that we could take the frozen buckets down and then hang empty ones to refill. At night, having busted the ice out of the morning buckets, we would repeat the process filling their buckets half full with cold water. Then, in effort to keep the water from freezing before they had a chance to drink it, we would then bring boiling water out from the house to bring the temperature up. It’s common knowledge that lots of hay is what keeps horses fueled up and warm inside, but without water to add to that mix you could have trouble. Fun times.
However, it really is true that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Or in this case, you can go to all that effort to present them with lovely tepid water on a -10 degree night and watch them be pretty not interested. Frustrating times.
And that’s a very long introduction to why we started feeding beet pulp mash in the first place. When you add water to beet pulp pellets, it expands to about 3 to 4 times its original volume. That’s how we mixed it - 1 part beet pulp to about 3 to 4 parts very hot water. (You can make beet pulp mash with cold water but we learned that beet pulp hydrates much faster with hot water— almost twice as fast). I liked to make it really wet but not quite soupy. The whole point was to make sure they were getting some extra water. Usually we added a little salt to make it extra special. We must have made it right, because we never had a horse refuse it. In fact, they loved it!
When spring finally came around the horses looked fantastic! So, we kept beet pulp as a part of their normal rations all year round.
That first year we were feeding it I didn’t realize that we had hit upon much more than an H20 delivery system. It wasn’t until later that I started finding a lot more information about the nutritional make up of beet pulp. I collected all the bits of information—quite a bit of it was from Horse Journal issues from 1999-2004. Some of the information I found recommended adding some rice or wheat bran to a beet pulp mash to adjust it’s mineral content. But, in all honesty, we never did that. We never had a single problem. Of course, we never did have to completely replace their hay rations to any great extent. Aside from that one very lean hay year, we were feeding beet pulp mashes in addition to a normal hay ration. One individual that was on that regime is my sister’s Arabian gelding, the late great and totally eccentric Hillcrest Breeze had beet pulp mash daily!
A few interesting facts about beet pulp!
Because beet pulp is 18% (or even a little more) fiber, it’s considered a roughage and is highly digestible. According to nutritionists at Kentucky Equine Research, beet pulp is considered a “super fiber” when it comes to feeding horses.
Beet pulp has more than twice the calories of average hay but not has a low glycemic index
The energy in beet pulp comes from both insoluable and soluable fiber
Beet pulp contains pectin and pectin is great for preventing and healing ulcers
Beet pulp, unlike bran mash, ferments well in the colon
Slows the rate of stomach emptying
The beet pulp fiber has a prebiotic effect. It helps to support healthy organisms in the large bowel
Did I mention, beet pulp is highly digestible? See number 1!!!
Beet pulp mash is wonderful for senior horses that have difficulty chewing
Some beet pulp pellets might have molasses added to it, so if you're feeding a horse that shouldn't get the sugary stuff, be sure to check the label! We've always used plain beet pulp pellets for our mashes!
How to Make a Beet Pulp Mash
1 part beet pulp pellets to 3 or 4 parts water is good ratio. You can add salt and if you want you want to make it extra special, you can add apples and carrots!
For a quart of pellets, this small cooler works nicely to set up the mash. And keeps the mash warm on the way to the barn too!
If you use boiling water, the pellets will hydrate in about an hour. So close the lid and walk away!
An hour later - voila- fluffy beet pulp. You can make it a little more moist if you'd like.
And with very little effort, warm dinner on a cold night!