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Super Fibers for Horses

Posted on 25 September 2016

Designed to handle a near continual supply of forage, the gastrointestinal tract of the horse, especially the hindgut, grinds away slowly, turning fiber into usable energy. Some fiber contains more energy than others.

Rapidly fermentable fiber sources, sometimes called super fibers such as beet pulp and soy hulls, offer many benefits to horses, including an upsurge in energy from normal pasture grasses and hay.

Nutritionists are asked which super fiber is best, beet pulp or soy hulls, and why the two feedstuffs aren’t similarly priced if they provide the same nutrients to the horse.

One super fiber has no great advantage over another. Usually, choosing one is just a matter of which is more available in the area, cost and which fits better into the horse’s feeding program.

Beet pulp sometimes gets a bad rap because of its  involvement in choke. Certainly, there have been instances of beet pulp shreds causing choke, but obstruction of the esophagus has more to do with how a horse eats rather than what a horse eats.  A horse that bolts its feed will always have  a greater chance of a blockage than a horse that chews and swallows slowly and methodically.

As with any new feedstuff beet pulp is gradually added to a concentrate meal until the full measure can be fed. This is particularly important with a super fiber that has the potential to produce excessive gas, like beet pulp, if the microbial population doesn’t have time to adapt to it.

If there is concern about the sugar in molasses beet pulp, it  can be rinsed a few times before being soaked to remove excessive sugar. Alternatively, unmolassed or plain beet pulp  is available.

The amount of beet pulp added to a meal varies based on the energy and fiber needs of the horse.

Soy hulls are the skin of the soybean seed, this is removed when  the  seeds  are  made  into  soybean  meal  and  the    oil extracted. The residue is the hull and this has virtually no starch, and with measured sugars at less than 1.0%  dry  matter.

Soy hulls are a source of the super fibers which are now being used to allow horses to get the energy they need without relying on sugar and starch. Studies show that relative to oats with a glycemic index of 100, soy hulls have virtually no glycemic index.

The non fiber carbs are soluble fiber, not sugar and starch so it is friendly in the carb department. There is such a low sugar and starch level and, of course “NO” fructans as in grass hay and pasture. This feed would be ideal for horses with Cushings or insulin resistance.

The fiber in soy hulls is unique and much like the fiber in Beet Pulp, it has relatively high level of solubility. It absorbs water and holds water. This can actually be an advantage, but it does mean it should be fed wet.

The fiber is not lignified, so it can be well digested in the hind gut. Because the fiber is digested slowly compared to fructans in grasses, and there are no fructans in soy, the final products of digestion are volatile fatty acids.  Gut friendly fatty acids   like acetate reduce the risk of lactic acid build  up.  Grasses  vary a lot in the amount of fructans digested in the small intes- tine, they end up in the hind gut where they can be a problem as they ferment like a grain overload in that situation if too high.

Soy hulls vary a bit in protein, but 8% seems reasonable to use for a value. Calcium is about .5-.8% as fed and phosphorous is low at .08-.2%. It should be balanced in a program to see if it will work well for your horse. Energy is lower than grain but higher than hay, one of those in between feeds. Trace  minerals are low .

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