Many horse owners ask if beet pulp is a good way to put weight on a horse. This is a great question, as many horse owners struggle to keep weight on their horses, whether they are being used heavily or they are simply trying to maintain a “hard keeper”. Weight gain in horses is a function of Calorie intake, just as it is in humans. If a horse needs to gain weight, you have to increase the Calorie intake per day above the current level that the horse is being fed.
Beet pulp is what we sometimes refer to as a “super fiber”. Because it has a high percentage of highly digestible or readily fermentable fiber, it contains more digestible energy per pound than hay and is actually about the same as oats, as beet pulp contains about 2.98 Mcal/kg. Unless there is a lot of molasses added, it is also fairly low in starch and sugar with a non-structural carbohydrate level of about 9.8%. That is why it is considered a fairly “safe” energy source. Soy hulls have a similar status, with a digestible energy value of about 3.0 Mcal/kg.
So, if one kilogram of feed that contains 1.4 Mcal/kg is removed and replaced with one kilogram of beet pulp that contains 2.98 Mcal/kg, then 1.58 Mcal or 1,580 Calories have been added, all while feeding the same amount of stuff. Because beet pulp is highly digestible, the horse has less gut fill and can actually consume a bit more per day as well, so the feed intake and Calorie intake can be further increased, which supports the weight gain theory that many horse owners follow.
That said, beet pulp is not a well-balanced feed. It has low mineral content, is a very poor amino acid source, and only contains about 9.3% protein. Beet pulp fits into a feeding program very well as an energy ingredient, but it needs to be balanced for the other nutrients.
In conclusion, it is important to bear in mind that rarely is a single ingredient the answer to an equine nutrition situation. Ingredients on their own are simply not balanced solutions. While beet pulp is a very viable ingredient for use in a horse’s overall diet, and it can definitely be used to increase the caloric intake, it needs to be evaluated in the scope of the entire diet to determine if the horse is receiving a balanced ration. For most horse owners, the simplest route if beet pulp is a desired ingredient is to purchase a commercially available feed that incorporates it as a major ingredient and adds the needed protein, vitamins and minerals to balance the diet for overall health and well being of the animal.