When to Soften Beet Pulp with Added Water

Shredded beet pulp is small, irregular shape, tan to light brown color, appears similar in form and look likes tobacco. Dried, unadulterated beet pulp has a ridged, stiff, prickly texture. Beet pulp in a 50 lb. bag may be the dried, basic form or may have added molasses to soften the feedstuff as well as improve palatability. The bag’s ingredient label should indicate whether the product is just beet pulp or beet pulp with molasses. The texture and those who have choke concerns are the reasons many ask if beet pulp needs to be “soaked”.

Horses, like any herbaceous animal, chew to reduce the particle size of the food but equally important to mix with salvia which softens the food to swallow and salvia contains bicarbonate, which preps the food before entering the stomach’s acid environment. Dried, basic beet pulp (nothing but beet pulp) is stiff, firm, and prickly thus chewing requires added effort, time and patience. ‘Softening’ the beet pulp with water will still promote chewing thus the benefits of the buffering attributes of salvia. Soaking for hours/overnight has no advantage and is excessive in this nutritionist’s opinion. One is not making “beet pulp wine”.

When to Add Water

  1. Are you feeding dried, basic beet pulp?
    • If yes, then add water regardless of the amount being fed.
      • Horses can chew/consume several pounds of dry beet pulp, but this amount does require nutritional management, which is observation and responsibility of the owner. If the horse is aggressive with food consumption(bolting), then clearly feeding dry beet pulp would not be advisable. Softening the beet pulp with water will still promote chewing but management practices will be needed to slow down aggressive consumption.
    • Add at least equal amounts of water to start; now go perform another chore. The mixing time will depend on the amount of water and degree of softness which is why the initial suggestion is equal amounts of each. Usually 15-30 minutes is enough time. There are others who have recommended to add twice the amount of water (twice the volume) and soaking for hours. Keep in mind the goal is to soften the feedstuff while still promoting chewing.
  2. Are you feeding a feed-mix that contains beet pulp?
    • If beet pulp is an ingredient in the feed mix, is it a major ingredient? (1st or 2nd ingredient on the label) or listed as 4th, 5th, or 6th ingredient on the label?
    • If a major ingredient, how much is being fed per meal? …1 cup, 1 lb., 2lbs., 4lbs., etc.? If beet pulp is a major ingredient, in which one meal is 3 - 4 lbs., and the feed feels dry, then add water to soften.
    • Commercial feed blends are approximately 8 - 10% water so the beet pulp has absorbed moisture from the other feed ingredients. If molasses and/or oil are also in the feed-mix, these two ingredients will add to softening all the feed mix components including the beet pulp.
    • Adding water to the feed-mix will depend on the horse’s behavior with consumption and the texture of the feed-mix. If unsure, then add water.

Beet pulp provides some positive nutritional attributes including a source of high digestible fibers, good alternative energy source, promotes consistency in gut motility and promotes a healthy environment for gut microorganisms.

Does beet pulp cause choke?

Any food source can cause choke, which is why emphasis is directed towards feed management and evaluating, monitoring the horse’s eating behavior. Horses that bolt feed, demonstrate greediness and aggressiveness at/during feeding are more likely to chew less, thus less salvia produced to moisten, thus potential difficulty with swallowing. Observation and routine monitoring during mealtime are critical tools required for nutritional management of your horse. An irregular shape, flat stone, placed in the feed bucket will forced the horse to navigate around the stone to acquire the food. The stone needs to be large enough that it cannot be picked-up or muzzle out of the feed bucket. There are also commercial feed buckets designed to accomplish the same objective in slowing down the aggressive eating.

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