Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Feeding Sugar Beet – The Facts

Sugar beet has long been fed to horses, but trying to separate the myths and misconceptions from the facts, can often make the decision of whether or not to feed sugar beet a confusing decision. So what is sugar beet and what can we, or should we, really be using it for?

Sugar beetSugar beet is a root vegetable, the root of which is high in sucrose (table sugar). The sugar beet pulp we feed to our horses is the by-product of sugar beet processing which provides the sugar to put in our tea!

Sugar beet is high in fibre but in low starch and sugar (if unmolassed- approximately 5%) and therefore is a safe, easily digested and non-heating feed. For laminitics, look for varieties approved by The Laminitis Trust. Sugar beet is also high in calcium and low in phosphorus (which is ideal for horses) and being rich in branch chain amino acids, can be a useful feed for horses with liver damage.  Sugar beet must always be soaked before feeding (10 minutes – 24 hours depending on the variety) so as not to cause choke or colic.

Although high in calories (up to 13 MJ/ DE/ kg depending on the variety) and commonly fed for weight gain, sugar beet contains approximately 80% water once soaked and therefore is of very little nutritional value unless fed in large amounts (nutrients are diluted in water). This considered, sugar beet is often not fed in large enough quantities to provide a significant level of calories. A scoop of soaked sugar beet weighing 1kg, actually equates to only 200g of feed (approximately). For good-doers this is of course ideal as once soaked,  only a small cupful will go a long way, helping to add ‘bulk’ without excess calories. The motto of the story here is to weigh your sugar beet before you soak it!
Sugar beet pulp 
Being high in digestible fibre, sugar beet can also be fed as partial hay replacer for horses and ponies with poor teeth but again, take care to weigh it before soaking to ensure that you are providing enough fibre!

Used correctly, sugar beet can be a useful and versatile feed but like any other, must be understood if we are to see the benefits. Will you be feeding sugar beet this winter?