Feeding sugar beet: the facts

As a horse owner, you’re bound to know someone who swears by the sugar beet they feed to their horses, but trying to separate the myths and misconceptions about this vegetable from the facts can often be a confusing business.

So what is sugar beet and what can we, or should we, really be using it for?

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As a root vegetable, sugar beet is high in fibre but in low starch and sugar (if unmolassed it contains approximately 5%) and is therefore a safe, easily digested and non-heating feed. It is also high in calcium and low in phosphorus which is ideal as calcium and phosphorus in the diet should be maintained at ratio of 1.5-2:1.

Sugar beet should be soaked before it’s fed to horses and depending upon how it has been processed, this can range from 10 minutes to 24 hours.

The soaking period is essential to ensure that the beet doesn’t continue to soak up moisture and expand in the horse’s digestive system increasing the risk of colic.

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Though high in calories and commonly fed to horses who need to gain weight, sugar beet contains approximately 80% water once soaked and the increase in volume means it is easy to over-estimate how much you are actually feeding. A result, sugar beet is often not fed in large enough quantities to contribute a significant level of nutrients to the diet. In fact, Stubbs scoop of ‘Horse and Pony cubes’ could be 4-5 times higher in calories than a scoop of soaked sugar beet! On the other hand, this also means a small cupful will go a long way, helping to add ‘bulk’ to the bucket without excess calories for good doers.

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.

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