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Avoiding Colic as Horses Transition from Pasture to Hay

Thursday, October 27th, 2022

Avoiding Colic as Horses Transition from Pasture to HayAvoiding Colic as Horses Transition from Pasture to Hay: It happens every year. Horses that have been turned out in pastures all summer must transition to a diet that contains far less fresh grass and far more hay. This means that the important fiber portion of the diet will have a lower moisture content along with a significant increase in the percentage of dry matter. Read further to learn how to avoid colic as horses transition from pasture to hay.

Throughout the fall and winter months, owners should continue to allow as much turnout as possible. Any change to a horse’s diet should be made as gradually as possible in order to avoid colic and other digestive tract upsets. Fortunately for horse owners, the move from grass to hay naturally follows this pattern as pasture growth declines and plants enter a dormant stage. Horses that have access to pasture will continue to graze, but the forage they ingest will slowly drop in moisture and lose its fresh characteristics.

Water is Essential:

Providing plenty of fresh, clean water is essential in every season, but it is particularly important when hay is being fed and horses are not getting much moisture from their forage intake. Extremely cold water is less appealing than water that has been warmed to around 50° F. Water at this temperature still feels very cold on human skin, but it is readily consumed by horses.

Access to salt, either loose or in a block, is also important. Sprinkling a bit of salt on grain or dampened hay will stimulate the horse to drink more water.

Exercise and Consumption:

Throughout the fall and winter months, owners should continue to allow as much turnout as possible. According to Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., senior equine nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research, “Exercise helps to keep ingested material moving through the horse’s digestive tract. Pastured horses cover a lot more ground than stalled horses. Especially if they are turned out with a buddy or two.” If outdoor exercise isn’t available, be sure that all horses get at least a few hours of riding, driving, longeing, or free exercise in a covered arena each day.

Monitor hay consumption while horses are in their stalls. If one horse is not consuming much hay, or if you find wads of partially chewed hay lying on the floor in this horse’s stall, he may need to have his teeth checked. Dental exams should be scheduled for all horses once or twice a year. Some horses, especially older equine, can develop problems between checkups.

Hay and Supplements:

When a new batch of hay is delivered, introduce it by feeding a small amount of the new hay mixed into the old. Increase the percentage of new hay gradually over five to seven days. This allows the microbes in the horse’s gut to adjust to the change and prevents upsets.

Inspect each bale of hay as it is opened. Discard any hay that smells musty or shows signs of mold. Most horses will refuse to eat hay that is moldy. Even if the mold is so slight that humans can’t detect it. However, extremely hungry horses may eat tainted hay. It should never be fed and should be disposed of in an area where horses can’t reach it.

Research-proven digestive supplements can help horses that are prone to colic during feed transitions. EquiShure, a supplement developed by Kentucky Equine Research, stabilizes the pH of the hindgut. Changes in feed sometimes cause the pH to fluctuate wildly, which can set the stage for colic or laminitis.

Would you like more information about hay diets and how to avoid colic as horses transition from pasture to hay? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

Color of Horse Hay: What Does It Mean?

Thursday, January 7th, 2021
Color of Horse HayThe color of horse hay is very useful in determining the quality of the hay. Methods of curing and storing hay greatly influence its appropriateness for horses.

The key to properly cured hay lies predominantly in moisture content. For best results, hay should not be baled until there is less than 20% moisture. Hay baled too wet might mold, heat, and pose a fire risk. Conversely, hay baled too dry might lose its nutritional value through broken or fallen leaves. Rain is the bane of a hay harvester’s existence, and it can cause extensive nutrient losses, especially to vitamins A and E, protein, and certain carbohydrates.

Though the color of hay is not the end-all, be-all method for determining hay quality (that would be forage analysis by a laboratory), color is a useful indicator of nutritive value.


Without question, the most desirable color of hay is bright green. Greenness indicates the hay was not subjected to any adverse conditions during curing or storage, thereby suggesting the forage is nutritious and free of molds. Green hay is often rife with carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and vitamin E.


If hay is yellow, there is a likelihood that it was overmature when cut or was exposed to rain during the curing process. If the hay was rained on, it is not only susceptible to leaching of nutrients but also mold proliferation, which can cause gastrointestinal and respiratory problems such as colic, coughing, or heaves. In other instances, yellowing might be due to sun-bleaching, which occurs when stored hay is exposed to direct sunlight. Sun-bleaching decreases carotene content and palatability of the discolored hay. Sun damage usually affects only the outside of bales, so much of the hay in these bales is probably salvageable.


Nutritious hay is rarely, if ever, brown. If a tobacco-like odor accompanies extremely off-colored hay, this is likely due to overheating during storage caused by excessive moisture and fungal growth. Palatability of low-quality brown hay is usually poor. Due to the predisposition to mold and unpalatability, this hay should not be fed to horses.

Not all horses require bright green, nutrient-dense hay. In fact, equine nutritionists are adamant that forage selection be based on individual needs. An overweight pony does not need to stand knee-deep in fluorescent alfalfa (lucerne) for two-thirds of the day, and a thinnish lactating mare needs more than last year’s yellowing meadow grass to keep her in milk.

Other factors also affect hay quality including plant type (grasses versus legumes), stage of maturity, leaf-to-stem ratio, and presence of mold, weeds, and other foreign material.

Would you like more information about hay diets? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

Feeding Old Hay to Horses

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

Feeding Old Hay to HorsesAn age-old question: when is feeding old hay to horses O.K.?

Hay doesn’t come stamped with an expiration date. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to use it and when to toss it. Consider these points:

  • If the hay was of good-quality when harvested and stored in a dry place with sufficient airflow, hay is likely suitable for consumption for two to three years.
  • Keep in mind that hay, even premium forage, loses much of its vitamin content in the first few months of storage. “Hay stored in hot environments, such as haylofts, can lose half to three-quarters of its vitamin E content over a three-month period,” said Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).
  • Do not expect two- or three-year-old hay to contribute significantly to vitamin A nutrition. “About 75% of vitamin A disappears within the first 24 hours of cutting and then loses another 10% monthly. Because forage is rich in vitamin A, this is not a concern for hay fed in the first year or so following harvesting,” said Crandell.
  • Because vitamin D is more stable than vitamins A and E, hay loses very little of vitamin D in storage, according to Crandell.

What’s the best way to handle nutrient deficiencies if old hay is fed?

If horses are consuming green pasture and a well-fortified concentrate, there is no need to worry about the vitamin and mineral content of whatever old, well-preserved hay horses may be nibbling on. If, however, the hay is fed as the sole feedstuff, changes to the diet should be considered, as the horse will not be consuming sufficient vitamins and minerals for top-notch health.

One of three feeding scenarios usually unfolds:

  • A fortified concentrate should be fed if horses require additional calories on top of the hay to maintain body weight. Feeds are available for every life stage, and an appropriate one should be purchased and fed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This might be the case with horses that are in moderate to heavy work and horses known to be hard keepers.
  • If horses hold optimal body condition on hay alone and do not have elevated protein requirements (such as mature horses at maintenance or those light work), a vitamin and mineral supplement such as Micro-Max from KER would be appropriate. In Australia, look for Gold Pellet or Nutrequin SE.
  • If horses require protein as well as minerals and vitamins for optimal health and performance, which is usually the case with easy keepers who serve as broodmares (barren or early gestation) or riding horses in near-daily work, consider feeding a balancer pellet.

Under no circumstances should old hay be fed if it has been compromised by dust, moisture, mold, or foreign objects. Undisturbed hay may also have been infiltrated by nesting rodents or wildlife. If raccoons, opossums, or rodents have run amuck in the loft, consider chucking the hay, as it could harbor disease-causing organisms, including those that cause equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM).

Would you like more information about hay diets? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

Moldy Hay for Horses: Causes and Avoidance

Thursday, December 24th, 2020

Avoid moldy hay for horsesCultivating good-quality hay is no easy task and is dependent on cooperative weather for optimal success. Hay farmers must keep a keen eye on plant growth, the moisture content at harvest, and other baling considerations in order to avoid moldy hay for horses. Mold forms on hay because of excessive moisture, which is why it is so critical to harvest hay under the most conducive conditions and then store it properly once baled.

Moisture content is a crucial measure when it comes to hay production. Once hay is cut in the field, it needs to dry. Length of drying time varies based on geographical region and weather. Humidity or rain will slow this process, leaving the crop vulnerable to mold and fungus. If hay is baled at 12-14% moisture or less, the likelihood of mold is reduced.

If a preservative is not used on cut hay, mold will grow if moisture concentration above about 14%-15%. In addition to nutrient loss, mold growth produces heat. If moldy hay is stored in tight stacks or in areas of poor ventilation, there is a risk for spontaneous combustion. For this reason, all hay should be stacked in well-ventilated areas, with an alternating pattern that allows airflow between bales.

Common molds that grow on hay include Aspergillus, Fusarium, Penicillium, and Rhizopus, among others. Molds generate spores that can irritate respiratory tissues, contributing to recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), also known as heaves. RAO can lead to impaired performance due to difficulty breathing. Special attention should be given to the hay being fed to a horse who already suffers from RAO to avoid additional complications. Moldy hay can also cause colic.

Botulism is a concern for horses consuming hay, particularly large round bales. If animals or carcasses of small animals, such as mice, are caught up in the bale during harvesting, they can infect the hay with Clostridium botulinum bacteria as they decay. Contaminated hay can cause illness to the horse that consumes it. Symptoms of botulism in horses include weakness, muscle tremors, inability to swallow, loss of muscle tone in the tail, paralysis, and incoordination. Horses left untreated for or severely affected by botulism may die if the bacteria paralyze the respiratory system. Ask your vet about the botulism vaccine if your horse consumes round bales.

Proper storage is a critical component of hay-feeding. “Hay should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated area off of the ground,” advised Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research. “Avoid placing tarps tightly around hay, which will prevent moisture from escaping. Don’t stack hay too high, and be sure to leave some space between each bale to allow for airflow.” These techniques will help minimize the risk of mold growth in hay.

Further, no matter which variety or cutting of hay you have in the barn, take the time to inspect it prior to feeding. Hay may look perfectly fine on the outside, but it is possible for mold to be growing on the inside, according to Crandell.

While mold may be difficult to detect visually, an unusual odor usually accompanies mold growth. If hay is dusty or smells musty, do not feed it. Any black or gray mold is a sure sign of spoiled hay and potential health risk to the horse. Work with your hay supplier to replace unsuitable hay bales, and talk to your veterinarian about preventative measures for maintaining the horse’s health.

Hay is a staple in the diets of many horses. For those horses that do not receive a commercial fortified concentrate with their hay, owners should consider a vitamin and mineral supplement, such as Micro-Max (Gold Pellet, Nutrequin, or Perform in Australia). A well-formulated vitamin and mineral supplement will round out the nutritional needs of horses on all-forage diets. “The use of a vitamin and mineral supplement or a ration balancer to fill in the nutritional gaps formed by feeding only pasture or hay is an easy, though oft overlooked, management strategy that ensures optimal health,” said Crandell.

Would you like more information about switching to hay diets? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

Switching to Hay? Remember Vitamin E

Thursday, December 17th, 2020
As autumn shifts to winter, or summer droughts begin to set in, horse owners in many climates must provide horses with an appropriate alternative forage to fulfill fiber requirements. In most cases, this involves switching to hay, haylage, or hay cubes.

Winter Hay Supplies for Horses

Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

Winter Hay Supplies for HorsesWith winter approaching, horse owners will be looking for a source of hay to feed during the season when pasture forage is dormant. Keep these things in mind as you shop for winter hay:

  • If you have enough storage space, try to buy most or all of your hay from the same source and cutting. Switching to a new type of hay, or even a different cutting of the same type of hay, may trigger colic in some horses.
  • Examine representative bales from each delivery. Reject the order if you find many unusually heavy bales that may contain too much moisture; bales that show mold; and those that smell musty or damp.
  • Look for hay that matches the nutritional requirements of the horses you are feeding. Performance horses will need a better grade of hay than horses that are idle. Obese horses may get along best on a medium-grade hay that is low in nonstructural carbohydrates. Horses with dental problems can get more nourishment from clean, fine-textured hay than from rougher forage that requires more chewing.
  • Be generous in your estimate of how much hay you will need. Winter weather is somewhat unpredictable, so planning for a few extra weeks of hay use is a good idea.
  • Part-way through the winter, evaluate how much hay has been used and shop for more, if needed, before you run out. Mix new hay with older hay for a week or so instead of suddenly introducing a new batch.
  • Store hay in a dry place that has good ventilation. Avoid stacking bales too tightly; air movement will help to prevent mold.

Would you more information about the benefits of late-season hay for horses? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

Benefits of Late-Season Hay for Horses

Thursday, November 26th, 2020

Benefits of Late-Season Hay for HorsesAs the warm summer months draw to a close, horse owners stock up on hay for the winter. The hay man has a variety of hays available, including the yellow or brown, less leafy fall hays. Although they might not be as physically attractive and green as the hay harvested earlier in the summer, there are many benefits to late-season hay for horses.

Did you know these facts about late-cut hays?

  • Late-cut hays have less water-soluble carbohydrates (i.e., glucose, sucrose, fructose, and fructans) and are therefore better for obese, insulin sensitive/resistant horses, and those diagnosed with equine metabolic syndrome.
  • They have more structural carbohydrates that are fermented in the large intestine to provide energy in the form of volatile fatty acids (e.g., lactate, acetate).
  • Late-cut hays can provide enough energy and nutrients (i.e., carbohydrate, protein, minerals, vitamins, etc.) for most horses to thrive, even if pregnant, lactating, or exercising.
  • They typically contain fewer weeds than early-cut hay.
  • Late-cut hays are generally less palatable, which may make colic less likely to result than when feeding tasty early-cut hays.

Regardless of what hay type is ultimately selected, follow the basic rules for selecting good-quality hay. For example, never feed moldy or dusty hay to horses, particularly those with respiratory issues and do not feed hay with blister beetles or a preponderance of other bugs. Be aware that not all hays and horses marry well—high-energy hay, such as most alfalfa, might be great for young, growing horses but not elderly, barren mares.

Additionally, all hays and even cuts of hay from the same field vary depending on the weather conditions in which they were grown and harvested. This means that every type and cut can vary markedly in nutritional content. This is where hay analysis can come in handy to provide a consistent and healthy hay-based diet to your horses year-round.

Hay analysis may also benefit obese and insulin sensitive/resistant horses. If the hay is high in water-soluble carbohydrates, hay soaking can remove those excess carbohydrates.

In short, choose your hay wisely, preferably with the assistance of an equine nutritionist or veterinarian.

Would you more information about the benefits of late-season hay for horses? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

Alternative Hays for Horses

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

Alternative Hays for HorsesCommon hays fed to horses include various pure grass hays, mixed grass hays, and legume hays such as alfalfa (lucerne) and clover. If these hays are not available, horse owners may have to choose alternative hays from less traditional hay types. While these other forages are usually suitable for horses, some have associated risks.

Foxtail or German millet can be used for horse forage. If foxtail millet hay is fed to horses, additional calcium supplementation will be required as it is high in oxalates, substances that make it difficult for the horse to absorb the calcium in its diet. Some reports show that horses grazing millet hay may have lameness and joint swelling. Some pearl millet reportedly has an alkaloid buildup that can induce toxicity in cattle. Horses may also react to these alkaloids because they are susceptible to alkaloid toxicity syndromes. All millets can accumulate nitrates, which in grazing or haying millets can reach toxic proportions. Nitrate can be controlled somewhat by reducing the amount of nitrogen per application and increasing the number of applications. German millet can cause oral lesions.

Sorghum grasses include sudangrass, johnsongrass, hybrid forage sorghums, and grain sorghums. Here we consider all classes of forage sudangrasses and associated hybrids the same. In reality, there may be some without toxicity problems.

Sudangrass in the green growth stages can cause a urinary tract disease in horses called cystitis syndrome or cystitis/ataxia (staggering). The disease is irreversible and is believed to be associated with low levels of cyanide (prussic acid) in sudangrass. Piper sudangrass is a variety low in prussic acid and may be a good choice to minimize this problem. Hay produced from sudangrasses will not likely cause cystitis/ataxia syndrome because prussic acid dissipates as hay cures. Sorghum pasture can also cause a problem for pregnant mares in the first three months of pregnancy, presumably because of prussic acid content; mares may abort. Foals can be born with contracted tendons.

Sweet-stemmed sudangrasses and other sorghums that are relatively high in sugar also cause a laxative reaction in horses. If it is necessary to use sudangrasses, be sure to use a nonsweet, starchy type and try to use other roughages as part of the ration.

Like sudangrass, johnsongrass can be high in prussic acid (cyanide), which can occur in any green plant and especially stressed ones. Rapid growth after a drought, plants stressed by drought or cold, and plants at and soon after frost are especially hazardous. Prussic acid does not occur in dangerous amounts in properly cured, dry hay. Prussic acid poisoning is not as severe a problem in horses as in cattle, but it can occur. Johnsongrass can also have a high nitrate content.

All types of sorghum contain cyanogenic glycosides, although there is quite a bit of variation among species and varieties. Some types of sorghum have been associated with poisoning horses in Australia. If horses are grazing sorghum-dominant pastures or if they are fed hay containing sorghum species, they may have an increased risk of chronic cyanide poisoning. A higher risk is associated with grazing young sorghum-dominant pastures affected by frost or storms and sorghum hay that has not been cured. The risk of poisoning is generally associated with accumulation of toxic levels of cyanogenic glycosides, resulting in chronic neurotoxicosis.

Pea straw has low digestibility and quality, but would be usable provided it is mixed up to 50:50 with a good-quality grass hay or legume hay.

Barley hay is suitable as an alternative forage for horses. The average analysis of barley hay shows a relatively low level of energy and protein, with similar calcium and phosphorus values as oaten hay. Try to select barley hay that has been cut at the milky dough stage, so the grain and the barley awns are not fully developed. When feeding barley hay, be aware that awns from the heads may catch in a horse’s teeth or cause ulcers in the horse’s mouth. This means that you should only feed green, immature barley hay as the awns haven’t had the chance to dry and become hardened. While oaten hay can be quite golden, barley hay should be green. Oaten hay is considered to be more palatable than barley hay and is probably the first choice for this reason, but barley hay can be a useful hay when a horse doesn’t need the extra energy and protein in alfalfa (lucerne) and a grass hay is needed.

Canola hay is not recommended as it has low digestibility and questionable quality and usually is treated with a heavy spray that the horses will ingest. Triticale and wheaten hays are usually acceptable provided they are cut early and do not have an abundance of awns or grain in the heads. Vetch hay, a legume, is also an acceptable forage.

Would you like help evaluating your horse’s diet? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

‘Tis the Season: Choosing Hay for Horses

Thursday, November 12th, 2020

ChoosingChoosing Hay for Horses hay for your horse has much to do with his metabolism. Is your horse an easy keeper that requires few calories to stay in fighting weight? Or, is he a hard doer that demands calorie-laden meals to maintain reasonable body condition? Perhaps he is of moderate metabolism—if he’s fed normal fare in standard amounts, he’s good to go. What’s a horse owner to do when it comes to pairing metabolism with hay selection? Use these general tips to find a suitable hay for your horse.

Easy keepers. These horses, genetically blessed to maintain weight easily, are perhaps the simplest for horse owners to nourish, especially when it comes to hay selection. While all hay intended for horses should be free of dust, mold, and weeds, owners of easy keepers should be on the lookout for fair- to good-quality grass hay.

“Forage will represent most, if not all, of an easy keeper’s diet, especially if the horse or pony is not in work, so choosing the right kind of hay is important,” explained Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., an equine nutrition advisor with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). “The key is to select hays that are predominantly grass, as these have fewer calories than legume hays, such as alfalfa or clover. Though perfectly acceptable, most easy keepers do not require the caloric punch of high-quality grass hay. Easy keepers generally do well on grass mixtures, maybe even late-maturing blends, which often have a little of this and a little of that.”

Though it might be tempting for owners of easy keepers to buy the best hay available, a balancing act is necessary, as both quality and quantity of hay should be considered. “If hay is all that an easy keeper has available to eat, it is important to keep the quality in check so that a sufficient quantity can be fed,” advised Whitehouse. “A hay that is appropriate for an easy keeper, such as mid- to late-maturing grass, might have only 80% of the calories of an early-maturity legume.”

From a practical standpoint, this means the same amount of calories would be found in 10 lb (4.5kg) of the grass hay or 8 lb (3.6kg) of the legume. With the importance of gastric motility in mind, it is far healthier for easy keepers to have access to near-constant source of low-calorie hay than smaller meals of high-calorie hay.

Horses and ponies with a known sensitivity to sugar, especially those that are prone to laminitis, should be given hay low in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC), preferably near 10-12% of dry matter. A laboratory such as Equi-Analytical can test hay for NSC, and an equine nutritionist can formulate an appropriate diet based results from forage testing.

Horses fed all-forage diets may not consume all of the nutrients required for optimal health, even if they maintain body weight easily. Choose a well-formulated vitamin and mineral supplement to augment the forage. Try Micro-Max, a supplement formulated by KER that is especially appropriate for horses that may have insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. In Australia, choose Nutrequin or Gold Pellet.

Horses with moderate metabolism. Owners of horses with moderate, or average, metabolism have much more leeway in the hays they choose. Healthy portions of good-quality grass hay, about 1.5-2% of body weight, coupled with an appropriate concentrate fed at the recommended levels will usually keep these horses in optimal weight.

“In choosing hay for these horses, owners have more freedom. They could seek out good-quality grasses or maybe some grass-legume mixes. At this point, availability might come into play. Since so many types of hay could satisfy nutritional requirements, it is easiest to choose one that’s readily available,” Whitehouse said.

Hard keepers. Choosing a suitable hay can significantly help achieve weight gain or maintenance in a hard keeper, according to Whitehouse.

“Legumes and legume mixes provide an edge for horses that have difficulty maintaining weight. Alfalfa and clover are the legumes most familiar to horse owners. The uptick in calories often associated with high-quality hay made from immature, and thus nutritiously ripe, plants can go a long way in meeting calorie demands,” she added.

Legumes should be especially leafy, as most of the nutrients are found in the leaves. Older horses often do well on legumes because they can easily process the soft leaves regardless of the condition of their teeth.

The question of quantity becomes a factor, too. For most horses, especially hard keepers, it is important to keep hay in front of them at all times. Not only are the digestive benefits irrefutable—a working, dynamic gastrointestinal tract is far healthier than a static one—but many horses will often resort to eating when bored, so it is best to keep haynets or feeders well stocked.

Some hard keepers are notoriously picky eaters. While most horses object to the concentrate portion of their rations, every now and then a horse comes along that finds alfalfa distasteful. “Though flat-out refusal of alfalfa is not common, it does happen,” said Whitehouse. “In these instances, it is best to source a good-quality grass hay that was baled at early maturity.”

Forage selection is integral in formulating a diet for horses and ponies, whatever their metabolism may be. Would you like help evaluating your horse’s diet? Contact us at J & J Farms by clicking here!

Article brought to you by KER.

Benefits of Beet Pulp for Horses

Wednesday, October 28th, 2020

Fiber fermentation in the hindgut provides the horse with energy to grow, work, and play. The fiber fraction of a horse’s diet typically comes from pasture or hay, but there are forage alternatives that can help supplement energy, benefit the digestive system, and provide fiber for horses that have trouble chewing traditional forage. One such forage alternative is beet pulp as a benefit for horses.

What is beet pulp?

According to Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research is, “Beet pulp is an energy-rich source of digestible fiber that helps promote a healthy microbial population in the hindgut.”

Beet pulp is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry. Sugar beets are grown and harvested to make sucrose and sugar leaving beet pulp, which is the plant material once the sugar has been removed. Because of the processing, beet pulp contains minimal sugar.

“Dried beet pulp products are usually available with or without added molasses. The sugar content of unmolassed beet pulp shreds is less than 10%, making it a safe feed for horses that need a low-sugar diet. Shreds with added molasses contain, on average, less than 15% sugar,” explained Crandell.

Beet pulp is considered a prebiotic, meaning it is beneficial to the millions of microbes in the horse’s hindgut. A robust, well-functioning microbiome contributes to overall health. Despite its prebiotic benefit, beet pulp should never be the sole fiber source of the diet. Beet pulp is low in protein (typically 8-10% crude protein) and rich in calcium but is devoid of vitamins and low in other minerals. While research reported in Nutrient Requirements of Horses, published by the National Research Council, showed that a diet consisting of 45-55% beet pulp had no negative effects on the horses consuming it, beet pulp alone will not provide sufficient nutrients, noted Crandell.

How can beet pulp be used?

Beet pulp can be used to help underweight horses gain weight. It provides approximately 1,000 kcals per pound (one quart of dry beet pulp shreds weighs approximately 0.5-0.6 pounds). Byproducts of microbial fermentation of beet pulp in the hindgut include volatile fatty acids, or VFAs, which are absorbed and turned into energy. This energy does not cause a spike in glucose or insulin and is released slowly for a more steady supply. Beet pulp is a common ingredient in commercial grain concentrates because of its energy density and benefit to the microbiome.

Beet pulp can also be used as a top-dressed supplement. Because beet pulp holds moisture, making it useful for adding water to the digestive system, soaking is recommended*. Dry shreds will not swell in the throat or stomach when fed appropriately. Soaking is required if feeding beet pulp pellets, because of the hardness of the pellet and the significant change in volume once pellets are wet.

Beet pulp has an unfair reputation for causing choke in horses. Any feedstuff, including forages, eaten greedily and swallowed without proper chewing can cause choking.

In summary, beet pulp is an option for adding energy and promoting digestive health in horses. Visit J & J Hay Farms for advice on whether beet pulp is right for your horse.

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

*Moore-Colyer, M.J.S., J.J. Hyslop, A.C. Longland, and D. Cuddeford. 2002. The mobile bag technique as a method for determining the degradation of four botanically diverse fibrous feedstuffs in the small intestine and total digestive tract of ponies. British Journal of Nutrition 88:729-740.