The Hidden Benefits of feeding Sugar Beet Pulp

11 Apr
by admin, posted in News   |  Comments Off

Sugar beet pulp is all too often labeled as a traditional feedstuff for the winter; representing a fantastic, cheap way of adding some bulk!  Whilst this is true in part, to look at sugar beet pulp in that way, neglects its nutritional characteristics  and the benefits that these can bring to your equine.

What is Sugar Beet Pulp (SBP)?

Sugar beet is a root vegetable.  The pulp, a by-product of sugar production, is dried (sometimes mixed with molasses), and is usually soaked before being fed.

It is available in a number of different forms – shreds, pellets/cubes and micronized flakes.  The shreds are generally soaked for 12 hours; the pellets/ cubes for 24 hours and the flakes, as little as 10 minutes.

The Nutritional Benefits for Equines

- Digestibility

SBP contains high levels of soluble fibre, including pectins, which are highly fermentable – thus, it is termed, a ‘highly digestible fibre’ or even, ‘superfibre’ – as the dry matter digestibility is approximately 80%.  (Hyslop, et al., 1998)

- Calcium Content

SBP can easily replace cereal grains in the diet as it is a more balanced feedstuff.  It is a ready source of calcium and has a calcium to phosphorus ratio of approximately 6:1, meaning it can help to balance the incorrect calcium to phosphorus ratios of cereal-based feeds. (MacLeod, 2007)

- Crude Protein (CP)

The CP of SBP is associated with the cell wall fraction of the plant and therefore, unlike other sources of protein, it is not digested in the small intestine, but instead, rapidly fermented in the hindgut – acting as a protein for the microbial population present there.  This increases their productivity and as such, SBP effectively acts as a natural pre-biotic.

In studies, this has been shown to stimulate fermentation, and as such, feeding SBP with a less digestible fibre (such as low-grade hay) can produce higher degradation values for the hay than if it was fed alone. (Moore-Colyer, 2008)

- Energy

As discussed, SBP is highly fermentable and digestible and therefore, higher in energy than traditional fibre feeds, such as hay or straw, both of which are rich in cellulose and not particularly fermentable.

The energy levels in SBP are similar to a medium-energy compound feed, yet the starch levels are much lower.

- A More Natural Feeding Choice

Starch-laid cereal grains (present in most compound feeds) are not natural feeds for horses.  None of the grasses or plants that equines will chose to consume in a feral situation are particularly high in starch.  SBP is a more natural alternative as a high-fibre food.

The Myth that SBP Contains Too Much Sugar / Protein

- Sugar

As the by-product of sugar production, SBP is what is left behind after the sugar has been extracted.  As such, unmolassed sugar beet has a low sugar content – 6.4% of the dry matter. (Moore-Colyer, 2009)

Molassed sugar beet has molasses added after processing; usually approximately 20%, which is equivalent to a total sugar content of 30% sugar in the final product. (Macleod, 2007)

- Protein

SBP provides approximately 10% protein.

When compared to other feeds, both of these values (molassed or not) are not particularly high in either sugar or protein.

The actual amount of a feed constituent (in this case, sugar) that a horse receives depends upon the amount of dry matter that is fed.  SBP tends to be soaked in about 4 times its weight in water.  Therefore, 1 kg of soaked SBP supplies just 200 g of actual sugar beet.

Nutrition Comparison

The following table highlights nutritional values of typical cereals in comparison to SBP.


Nutritional values as a portion of a straight-based diet for the working horse (i.e., what they contribute to the diet)


DE Energy (MJ/kg)

Crude Protein %

Moisture %

Ca g/kg

P g/kg



















Bran (Wheat)






Sugar-beet pulp



(88-90 dry), 15-25, soaked or boiled



Table 1 – Nutritional values of cereals and SBP.

(Adapted from Bishop, 2005)


SBP can offer a number of nutritional benefits to the equine diet and should be considered as a vital ingredient in rations, all year round.