Sugar beet often forms part of horse owners’ winter-feeding armory, but how much do you understand of its uses and benefits? Just what does it have to do with sugar? and is it really conditioning? Here we provide the facts to help you decide if and how much sugar beet you should really be feeding…

Sugar beet
  1. Sugar beet is a root vegetable, similar to a swede or turnip. The sugar beet pulp fed to horses is what is left at the end of the sugar extraction process which produces the sugar we put in our tea!
  2. Sugar beet can be an excellent source of highly digestible fibre and a valuable source of energy (calories). In fact, sugar beet is significantly more digestible than hay and contains a similar level of energy (calories) to cereal grains and conditioning feeds which is why it is often referred to as a ‘super fibre’. See point 6 on the effect of soaking on the energy (conditioning) power of sugar beet.
  3. Sugar beet processing removes most of the sugar and therefore if unmolassed, the sugar beet pulp fed to horses is relatively low in sugar (around 5%). It is also very low in starch (1%) making it a sympathetic alternative to cereal grains, particularly for horses and ponies prone to excitability or conditions such as laminitis.
  4. Soaking times vary significantly between manufactures and can range from as little as 10 minutes to 24 hours for ‘pure’ sugar beet products. However low levels of sugar beet can be incorporated into compound feeds without the need for soaking – always check the feeding instructions on the bag.
  5. Soaked feeds can start to ferment quite quickly, particularly in hot weather. Consider quick soaking varieties and feed immediately after soaking.
  6. Whilst its true sugar beet is high in calories, it’s often not fed in large enough quantities to be ‘conditioning’! Soaked sugar beet contains approximately 85% water but the increase in volume makes it easy to over-estimate how much you are actually feeding. A Stubbs scoop of soaked sugar beet weighing 2kg equates to approximately 300g of actual sugar beet. In fact, a scoop of Horse and Pony Cubes will provide approximately 4-5 times more calories!
  7. Although traditionally considered a conditioning feed, unmolassed sugar beet can be a useful feed good doers. A token ration e.g. a 250g mug (dry weight) for a 500kg horse, will help to bulk out the bucket whilst adding a negligible level of calories to the total diet.
  8. Unmolassed sugar beet can also be fed as a partial hay replacer and can be a good choice for poor doers who can no longer chew short chop fibre. Speak to a nutritionist for advice on how much sugar beet can safely be incorporated into your horse’s diet.
  9. Sugar beet is low in minerals and does not contain any vitamins. For this reason it should always be fed alongside an appropriate ration of compound feed, balancer or broad spectrum supplement.
  10. There are many sugar beet alternatives on the market now including quick soak mashes which are a convenient way of providing a balanced soaked fibre feed.

For more advice on feeding sugar beet contact the SPILLERS Care-Line