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.
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.