Updated: Aug 29
Alright, It's time. Time to rip off the duct tape covering my mouth, to talk about WHY I hate beet pulp so much. This is one of the first passionate opinions that my now husband heard from me when we started dating (and I have a lot of passionate opinions). My dislike goes back decades, even before my long term career in equine nutrition, but you're going to have read further for the long list of reasons why. In short, beet pulp is probably not what you think it is. Now allow me to climb onto my very tall soap box.
The choice of wether or not to feed beet pulp, drums up a lot of emotions for us horse owners, so I'm prepared to receive feedback about my opinions as charged as our presidential primaries. I can already hear the cries of "I've been feeding beet pulp for 40 years, and every horse is now a unicorn". But please, before you place me on the stake, please understand that I'm very specific about my hatred. I mostly hate bags of pelleted beet pulp from the feed store. I have different feelings about shredded beet pulp and beet pulp inside a fortified product, or even unfortified purpose products and you're going to learn why. I've said it a thousand times..."It's one of my top career goals to stymie the gross sales of pelleted beet pulp from feed stores!" Client by client, I'm succeeding.
7 REASONS WHY I HATE BEET PULP
#1: High Cost per Calorie = Low Efficiency
If I were asked for beet pulp's highest sin, I would say it's the by-product's extreme inefficiency. This is going to take a minute to explain, because most horse owners have never thought about it this way (not many nutritionists either), but when I look at the array of options to accomplish a nutrition goal, I know that there are, literally, >100 ways to accomplish the same thing, but only a couple ways that optimize efficiency. Now when I say the word "efficiency" in equine nutrition diet planning, I am referring to the amount of time and money it takes to accomplish a goal. If you covet your time and money (which is most of you), then you're going to appreciate this article.
A common example of diet plan efficiency can be illustrated in the weight gain nutrition goal. Once forage options have been optimized, there are two major ways of increasing caloric density in the horse's diet. First, you can feed the recommended amount of a fortified feed (calories, protein, vitamins and minerals all in one package) or you can do the unfortified commodity mixing plus vitamin and mineral supplement. Beet pulp is an unfortified commodity or "by-product" in feed industry lingo. This means a nutritionist has not added amino acids, vitamins or minerals to balance it to an animal's needs. The beets came off the field, the simple carbs were sucked out of it, and the leftover fibrous part of the plant was ground up, pressed into a pellet and poured into a bag. I've been punching the numbers for 15 years now, and so I can handily predict that unfortified commodity feeding is more expensive than fortified feeding 99% of the time. Here's why...
One way to consider a diet's "efficiency" is to calculate the cost per calorie. *See chart below. Let's say that you needed to add a modest 4 Megacalories per day to a horse's diet for weight gain. You could do that with 2.58 pounds of Triple Crown Senior (contains loads of beet pulp) at $1.80 per day or 2.53 pounds of Purina Impact Performance (also has beet pulp already in it) at $1.47 per day which will include a balance of not just fiber and fat calories, but also amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and digestive aids. By feeding any sort of fortified feed products, you are taking advantage of the nutritionists' pre-made calculations and expertise to balance the beet pulp with everything else.
In comparison, you could also add 4 megacalories to your horse's diet with 3.33 lbs of dry beet pulp (pre-soaking) which would SEEM to only cost you $1.58 per day, BUTTTTTT that does not include the protein supplement, vitamin and mineral supplement, AND the digestive aid supplement that you would have to add to mimic a well balanced fortified feed. So, despite the low bag price, you're now committing to paying closer to $3-$4 per day to complicate your feed room. That's the difference between $657 per year with a fortified feed and $1,277.50 per year soaking beet pulp and adding (and this is me being "kind" to the numbers)!
Now what if you're senior horse with no teeth needed a significant amount of his hay diet replaced with more soluble fibers. Well you could feed 8 pounds per day of a fully balanced senior feed for $5.60 per day (no additional supplementation needed) or you could feed 10 pounds of beet pulp to get the same amount of calories at $4.90. Let's say you keep it simple and just add a ration balancer for $0.70, which brings you up the same price of $5.60 per day. However, you had to feed MORE, you had to soak it, and you had to buy multiple products. THAT, my friends, is FEED ROOM INEFFECIENCY!
Much of this is laid out in my 5 Part "Stop Guessing and Start Gloating" Full Length Course. Learn More.
"But, but, but...I hear!" Listen, the beet pulp you're feeding is fine. It's adding good safe calories that you can feel good about, but wouldn't you like to spend half as much to get more AND not have to soak. If you prefer spending more time and money than necessary than you're making an emotional decision (a few exceptions apply).
#2 I Don't Like Emotional Decisions
Do I make emotional decisions for my horses....yes...all the time. When I was younger I would package up each horse's feed, wrap it with a red bow, and feed them their "special" meal on Christmas Day. However, I try to minimize emotional decisions when creating horse diets for paying clients, because emotional decisions don't always get results. I would say at least half of horse owners soaking and feeding beet pulp do it simply because it "feels" good. How do I know that...because when they relate their nutrition goals for the horse, beet pulp does not support any of of those goals. Example: An overweight laminitic horse needs to 1) lose 1 body condition score, 2) support the immune system, and 3) build muscle. Beet pulp DOES NOT address any of those goals. Look, I totally get it (refer to my personal story above)! "Cooking" and preparing feed for our horses elicits a primal, maternal response. I just wish we would acknowledge this emotional decision rather than passing it along to the poor horse owner on Facebook looking for recommendations.
The ONE exception: If you're using the beet pulp as a medium to get the horse to eat OTHER things, I can get behind that. But, please, please, please do not bestow untrue traits on beet pulp to justify your feel good decision and desire to mix 10 supplements into your horse's diet. Simply note that absolutely any palatable feed would do just fine as a medium.
#3 The Myths That Propagate
Reason number two brings me to reason number three why I hate beet pulp. The mythical traits bestowed upon beet pulp are viral, but untrue. I've heard people insist that it's high in protein, high in fat, and high in x, y, z nutrient. Ummm...maybe if you're comparing it to the bottom of your shoe! If you look at beet pulp's averages from Equi-Analytical's Common Feed Profiles database, you'll find that beet pulp is 9.2% crude protein, 1.2% crude fat, and 1.2 Mcal/lb. Typical protein-rich ingredients like alfalfa and canola meal are 20-45% crude protein. Beet pulp is NEVER added to a formula/product to enrich it's protein quality or quantity. Oils are 99% fat, rice bran is about 20-25% fat, and high fat performance feeds are 10-12% fat, so nope, beet pulp isn't high in fat either. As you've seen above in Reason #1, beet pulp isn't particularly high in energy when you compare it to other options on the market. It has about the same caloric density as high quality alfalfa hay, far less than rice bran, and another 15-30% less energy per pound compared to your high fat performance feeds. What is beet pulp high in? It's high in soluble fiber. That is the number one and ONLY reason to put it in a fortified formula or use as a forage replacer.
#4 Why Buy Fiber in a Bag When You're Horses Diet is Already High in Fiber?
This reason is related to the inefficiency reason, but it's worth saying again in another way. Why spend a penny on fiber when you're horse's diet is already rich in fiber? Chances are your horse is eating mostly hay and/or pasture and their teeth are good. If this is the case, your horse's diet is already rich in fiber. When I built good, efficient, effective diet plans, I want to spend money and increase labor on nutrients that are NOT supplied by the hay and/or pasture.
This is ESPECIALLY true with easy keepers. I see it all the time- owners with overweight horses at risk for laminitis and they are adding beet pulp. "Because it's low carb," they will say. Yes, it's low carb, but you're hyper-focusing on the carbs when you should be focused on the calories first. Why would you add beet pulp or alfalfa meal to a fat horse's diet when they are already getting too many calories? This is kind of like my bag of Sour Patch Kids advertising that they are low fat. Yea, no shit. A middle schooler would understand that, but you don't eat Sour Patch Kids when you're trying to lose weight and prevent diabetes!!!
*Chopped alfalfa hay, shredded beet pulp, and Triple Crown Safe Starch Forage are all examples of products with "fiber length".
#5 Lacks Fiber Length
Pelleted beet pulp has been ground, so it lacks the roughage factor that shredded beet pulp, chopped forages, or plain ol' hay has. This roughage factor is an old term that refers to the physical factors of hay and pasture. They literally will "roughen" the sides of the digestive system and stimulate it. Because pelleted beet pulp lacks this 1" or greater fiber length, I prefer to accomplish nutrition goals with hay flakes, chopped forges, or shredded beet pulp whenever possible.
#6 It's Not Natural
Another reason that beet pulp use annoys me so much is because it's always added when folks are trying to feed their horse's "naturally" without all the "unknowables" of processed feeds. Oh dear. If only they knew that beet pulp is one of the most commonly used genetically modified plants grown in the world. Very little beet pulp is organically grown. Just read this statement from The Sugar Association [CLICK HERE].
Secondly, beet pulp is a by-product like all the others; rice bran, soybean meal, dried distillers solubles, and wheat middlings. Now, I love by-products, because I'm well aware that they have saved thousands of equine lives, but some people recoil at the word "by-product". Please do not kid yourself... beet pulp belongs in this category.
*This is what a sugar beet plant looks like. It's the source of your shredded and pelleted beet pulp.
#7 Soaking is Very Messy
When I was in high school and trying to fatten up a young OTTB, I would try to sneak buckets of soaking beet pulp into the house, because, of course, I was mixing beet pulp with rice bran and alfalfa pellets (which I would never do now, because I value my time and money). Why was I sneaking it, you might ask? Because my mother HATED having buckets of stinky, messy beet pulp in our house throughout the winter.
The messiness of beet pulp is another reason why I prefer something else. It gets glued onto the soaking bucket, slobbered all over the stall, and then onto you poor feeder. If not cleaned regularly, the buckets used to soak and transfer the beet pulp can be infested with smelly bacteria that make your horse turn up their noses as the whole mix. *Pro Tip: If you do feed beet pulp regularly, but find your horse oddly picky about it, try cleaning your buckets with a tiny bit of bleach. I've had this be the miracle cure for more than one "picky" horse just this year.
I've been harboring a theory about beet pulp, and it goes like this...Long ago, early in my career, I learned that beet pulp was one of the first by-products of manufacturing to be marketed for livestock. Basically, the sugar beet industry was looking for ways to dispense of their fibrous by-product and landed on skinny cows and horses. The wide acceptance of beet pulp for livestock was analogous to James Caleb Jackson inventing cereal for his patients with digestive ailments. The feed industry had found a cheap source of very digestible calories that didn't need to be masticated. I imagine that the average age of equine mortality shot up after beet pulp became prolific in feed stores. This was before senior feeds blended beet pulp with other ingredients to make a more complete product. I think it's in part due to this rich history that beet pulp is placed on such a pedestal in equestrian culture even today.
Part of me wants to apologize for bursting your bubble about beet pulp, but it's it nice to know that you could do so much better, right!?! Look, you can give me whatever feedback you wish (I've heard it all), but I've been punching these numbers and seeing diets succeed or fail for 17 years. I will continue towards my goal of decreasing pelleted beet pulp bag sales across the country. Will you join me?
I will now jump off of my soap box to receive comments.