The Beauty of Beet Pulp in Your Horse's Diet


Beet Pulp, otherwise referred to as Sugar Beet Pulp is a well known, traditional ingredient used in many equine rations.  It provides numerous nutritional benefits, including delivering additional energy and helping to safe-guard the gastro-intestinal tract against acid attacks from a build-up of stomach acid.

In this article we will be looking at what beet pulp is, what functions it performs in the equine body and the nutritional benefits of feeding it in your horses ration.

What is beet pulp?

Despite being a by-product of sugar beet processing, beet pulp itself has a low sugar content, and is high in DE (Digestible Energy) and fibre. It is usually available with or without added molasses.  Most unmolassed beet pulp products have a low sugar content (below 10%) which means they are suitable for feeding to equines that require a low-sugar ration or those with clinical nutritional diseases. At Chestnut we supply unmolassed beet pulp flakes and you can find out more here.

What function does it perform in the equine body?

Typically, the fibre portion of a horses ration comes from pasture or hay, but there are certain fibre-based alternatives that can deliver additional DE and benefit the gastro-intestinal tract.  Beet pulp is one such alternative.

Beet pulp contains high levels of soluble fibre, including pectins, which are highly fermentable, thus, it is often termed a ‘highly digestible fibre’ or even, referred to as a ‘superfibre’. The dry matter digestibility is approximately 80%

(Hyslop, et al., 1998). This also helps to make it a good source of slow release energy, as it is metabolised through the process of fermentation, via the microbial population present in the equine hindgut.

What are the benefits of feeding beet pulp?

1. Natural Prebiotic Effect

Beet pulp fibre has a natural prebiotic effect; in that it has the characteristics of a prebiotic (as per the definition, of a “typically non-digestible fibre compound that passes undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulates the growth or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the hindgut by acting as substrate for them”. (Shurlock, 2018). A prebiotic is usually a term reserved for short chain fibres (oligosaccharides – such as FOS, MOS & GOS), inulin or other similar products.

Research has shown that fermentation of beet pulp fibre in the hindgut generates more energy as volatile fatty acids (VFA’s) and increases the fermentation of other feed stuffs present, primarily as fermentation promotes the proliferation of hemicellulytic bacteria.  Studies have shown that fermentation of alfalfa, for example, is increased by 25% when fed alongside beet pulp. (Shurlock, 2018).

Despite its prebiotic benefit, beet pulp should never be fed as the sole fibre source in the diet. Although it contains reasonable levels of protein (typically 8-10% crude protein) and is rich in calcium, it is devoid of vitamins and low in minerals. The National Research Council (NRC) illustrate that a diet consisting of approximately 45-55% beet pulp will have no negative effects on the horse consuming it, but beet pulp alone will not provide sufficient nutrients.

2. Delivers additional DE (Digestible Energy)

Typically, beet pulp is reasonably high in DE (Digestible Energy) (approx. 9 – 11 MJ/kg) and as such, it can be used effectively in the ration for assisting underweight horses to gain weight. By-product’s of microbial fermentation of beet pulp in the hindgut include volatile fatty acid’s (VFA’s) which, when absorbed are turned into energy. This energy does not cause a spike in glucose or insulin (unlike when feeding cereal-based products) and is released slowly for a steady energy supply.

3. Positive effect on overall health of the hindgut

The hindgut of the equine is the ‘fermentation chamber’ of the gastrointestinal tract.  Under optimal conditions, the microbial population that are resident in the hindgut, breakdown fibre and other nutrients that have ‘escaped’ undigested from the foregut (small intestine). In some situations, these other nutrients are the cause of ‘disruption’ to the microbial population, as the fermentation of unfamiliar starch and protein can generate lactic acid and endotoxins (such as amines and nitrites). These are rapidly absorbed and act as toxins and inflammatory agents in the body.

In contrast, beet pulp fibre fermentation generates a high proportion of butyric acid (a VFA).  Butyric acid acts an efficient barrier in the body against endotoxins.

4. Positive effect on overall health of stomach and gut wall

One of the unique characteristics of beet pulp is that approximately one third of its total fibre content consists of a substance called ‘pectin’. Pectin is a gel-like polysaccharide of glucuronic and uronic acids. It forms a mucilage secretion that lines the gut wall and therefore, it acts as a barrier against microbial adhesion, as well as a permeator for nutrient digestion, aiding the correct functioning of the gastro-intestinal tract.

The equine stomach is an incredibly acidic environment, primarily due to its function of acid hydrolysis.  In these acidic conditions, pectin (from beet pulp) is released and in the presence of surfactants and emulsifiers, it incorporates into the mucilage lining of the stomach.  This mucus lining is crucial in protecting the equine stomach from secreted acid. Thus, beet pulp aids the efficiency and health of the overall stomach mucal lining. This is often referred to as it’s ‘Acid Binding Capacity’ (ABC); put simply, it aids the stomach 'soak up' stomach acid.

5. Supporting Hydration

During the warmer weather, including beet pulp in your horses ration can help support hydration, especially when fed as a ‘mash’. This means you don’t have to try and get your horse to drink to increase water in take. The use of electrolytes, such as Equine America Apple Lytes, within a mash type feed can support hydration and performance helping with the replacement of key electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. Equine America Apple Lytes powder and solution are available for delivery with your Bulk Bin of Chestnut Horse Feeds.


Sugar Beet Pulp offers a number of nutritional benefits to the equine diet. It is a great source of fibre, supplying slow release energy and offering protection and support to the stomach and hind gut. It is often fed in the winter months, as an additional source of DE but during the warmer weather can be used to support hydration.  However, as outlined above, it can represent an invaluable addition to any ration; all year round.

If you have any nutritional queries, please get in touch, we are happy to help. If you would like more in-depth advice you can complete our online request form, simply fill out the details about you and your horse and we will be in touch.