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Beet pulp is a byproduct created during the process of extracting sugar from beets. After almost all of the sugar has been removed, the remaining flesh of the beets is known as the pulp. This substance is dried, bagged and sold for use as food for livestock, especially horses. Beet pulp serves no further purpose to the beet sugar makers once the sugar has been extracted, so it is considered a waste product and is very inexpensive to purchase. The high fiber of the pulp means it can be used as a substitute for hay in the diet of horses.
When purchased, beet pulp is grayish-red in appearance. The pulp can be sold either as chips, which are roughly chopped, or it can be sold as pellets that have been formed from processed pulp. Both the chips and the pellets are used identically, although the pellets are more compact and might be easier for a horse to eat than the larger beet chips.
If the beet pulp is going to be fed to horses, it might first be soaked in water for several hours to make it softer and easier to chew. This can benefit a horse that has problems chewing or a horse that has grown old. Not everyone agrees that the pulp should be soaked first. Although there is no difference, some horses prefer the dry and crunchy pulp while others like the soaked, mushy variety.
There are many beneficial nutrients in beet pulp that can help a horse. The pulp is very high in fiber, which can help digestion. It also is easily processed so horses with stomach or intestinal problems will not have problems eating it. There is a good amount of protein in the pulp, as well. Unlike hay, the pulp does not contain any vitamin A, meaning the nutrient will have to be supplied to the horse in some other way.
Beet pulp also is very high in calories and has a low glycemic index. This allows it to be added to the feed for horses that need to gain weight. The inexpensive pulp also can be used as a substitute for hay, which can be much more costly.
There are several myths centered on beet pulp and horses. The first is that, if a horse is given dry pulp, it will expand in the stomach and cause colic or death. This is not true, because a stomach is filled with acid and will not cause expansion like blending with water would. There also is a myth that horses will choke on the pulp unless it is soaked first. The fact is that the dried beet pulp poses no more of a choking hazard for horses than any other type of feed.