How to Soak Beet Pulp for Horses

An equine nutritionist offers advice about soaking beet pulp and ensuring it’s safe for horses to eat.
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soaking beet pulp
Soaking beet pulp is typically done by placing the beet pulp in a bucket and adding twice as much water as beet pulp. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q. In the winter months I feed my senior gelding some soaked beet pulp to help maintain his weight. I know beet pulp can go bad once soaked, but I’m not sure how long I can wait until I feed it. Is it okay to soak it at one meal to feed at the next, which is about 12 hours? Also, what is the correct length of time to soak it before feeding?

A. Beet pulp can be an excellent way to help maintain weight on harder-keeping horses during the winter, when hay or pasture alone aren’t adequate. Beet pulp is what is left after sugar is removed from sugar beets, and it’s a great source of highly digestible fiber that must be fermented in the hindgut. This, combined with its low starch and sugar content and the fact that its energy content is somewhat higher than other forages (although lower than most grains), makes it a good option. In fact, you can feed beet pulp as up to almost half a horse’s daily forage intake. 

Dehydrated to prevent mold, beet pulp comes in shreds and pellets. It’s a common and traditional practice to soak beet pulp. However, beet pulp can be fed dry, especially in the shredded form. In fact, a large number of commercial feeds include shredded beet pulp and are fed without soaking. In study researchers have fed up to 33 grams of dried beet pulp per kilogram of body weight per day to adult horses without any negative effects. This being said, I recommend soaking beet pulp prior to feeding because soaked beet pulp is less likely to cause choke. Additionally, anytime we can get extra water into our horses, we should take the opportunity.

Soaking beet pulp is typically done by placing the beet pulp in a bucket and adding twice as much water as beet pulp. Don’t worry if you add too much water, because you can always drain off any extra before feeding. However, some horses love super sloppy beet pulp, so you might actually want to aim for a very runny consistency. Pellets take longer than shreds to fully reconstitute, and it’s easy to tell when they’re completely soaked, because the pellets are no longer distinguishable. Using warm or hot water can speed up the process, but be careful not to overcook it. While many people do soak beet pulp overnight, just soaking while you are riding might be long enough for shreds.

soaked beet pulp; horse management
RELATED CONTENT | Beet Pulp FAQs

As for how long you can keep soaked beet pulp before it starts to spoil, that depends on a few factors, such as ambient temperature. Fermentation is a much bigger issue in the summer than the winter. Typically, soaked beet pulp can be kept without issue for 24 hours, possibly 48 hours in the winter. My personal preference is to soak just enough for the next feed.

Some people put beet pulp in the fridge to prevent it from spoiling, but this clearly isn’t practical if you’re soaking large amounts. Another idea would be to soak it in an insulated cooler with a lid that shuts well. This would help keep the product cool, assuming it is soaked in cold water.

With a little experimentation you will find out what works best for your climate. Just know that if soaked beet pulp ever smells like wine, it’s fermenting and you shouldn’t feed it to your horse.

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Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

2 Responses

  1. We have found it helpful to put the beet pulp inside a mesh “nosebag feeder,” put that in the bucket, then add the water. This allows us to rinse the beet pulp twice after soaking. We rinse until the draining water is fairly clear, and lets us know have reduced the amount of dirt that was with the beet pulp.

  2. I have a question regarding fermentation that you mentioned in this post. One of my horses likes his hay wet, so we feed him in a large tub and add about 5 gallons of water. When he is done eating, my other gelding goes over and slurps up the remaining hay-water. Often this water is bubbling and smells much like beer. We call it his morning brew. We have witnessed no problems with either of our horses, but want to know if fermented water may be an issue?

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