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Feeding Sugar Beet to Laminitics

Dr Tom Shurlock of Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet, Baileys' preferred beet brands, explains why Speedi-Beet is safe to feed to laminitics.

Laminitis, like many conditions, is a description of the effect rather than its cause.  That is, the condition is an inflammation of the lamellar and may be caused by a number of factors, including physical damage, bacterial toxins (disease) and diet.  In the case of diet, mineral imbalance or individual overages or deficiencies, can trigger an effect but the best-known "culprit" is probably the feeding of excess non-structural carbohydrates, such as starch or fructans.
 
What is a common factor is the acidification of tissues in the extremities (limbs), presumably due to reduced circulation compared to the body core.   Why then are non-structural carbohydrates particularly implicated, whilst structural ones (fibres) are not?  The answer is relatively simple; it depends on the microbes in the gut.
 
Carbohydrates are sugars linked to each other, in lines or branched chains, by an α or β link (which way round the sugar is presented in relation to its neighbour).  No animal enzyme can break the β link, although some bacteria, fungi and protozoa can.  This means fibre cannot be digested but can be microbially fermented and the end products (organic acids, nitrogen compounds etc.) can be absorbed and utilised by the host animal. 
 
The carbohydrate end products are mainly acetate, propionate, butyrate (known as volatile fatty acids or VFAs) and lactate and, of these, lactate build-ups are strongly implicated in laminitis.  However, fibre fermentation is a slow process (ruminants ferment fibre for up to a week in the rumen) and, in the case of the horse, most fibre is passed out before it is fully fermented so build-ups do not happen.
 
However, when feeding too much starch or fructans - both α linked carbohydrates - the horse's enzymes can only breakdown a limited amount, unless the starch has been well cooked, and there is a dumping of carbohydrate in the hindgut.  Fermentation of this carbohydrate encourages less specialised bacteria, whose fermentation produces not only high levels of lactate, but also inhibit the growth of those microbes that can ferment fibre.  There is a population shift and fermentation patterns change, encouraging more growth from the lactate producers so lactate is absorbed at rates higher than the horse can metabolise it.
 
Sugar beet pulp has a unique profile in the above situation.  Its fibre is an equal mix of cellulose, hemi-cellulose and pectins; pectins can be fermented in the small intestine, to some degree, but the majority of fibre is fermented in the hindgut.  The fermentation patterns of sugar beet pulp are remarkable as the VFA output is very similar to that of hay, whilst the lactate output is significantly lower.  VFA fermentation is rapid, supplying energy for the horse, whilst lactate fermentation is slow producing a quarter the amount compared to an equal amount of hay.
 
Sugar beet pulp is recognised by the Laminitis Trust as a feeding stuff that is compatible in feeding with Approved products.  Baileys’ preferred beet brand, Speedi-Beet, however, is fully approved by the Trust as a branded product and is a unique form of sugar beet.  Presented as flakes, it has been physically processed from unmolassed sugar beet pellets to produce a quick soaking, high-energy feedingstuff with good nutrient availability.
 
Speedi-Beet improves on the beneficial fermentation pattern of sugar beet and takes it one stage further.  Because the patented process actually disrupts cell wall material, a two-fold benefit happens.   Firstly, because more cellular material is available for digestion in the small intestine, less non-fibre material reaches the hindgut.  There is also less protein and oil to ferment, energy is saved and less non-fibre fermentation reduces the opportunity for the microbial population to move away from the fibre fermenters.
 
Secondly, disrupted cell walls give a greater surface area to which the fibre fermenters can attach so more fibre is fermented before it is passed out resulting in more VFAs, which give more energy.  The incorporation of Speedi-Beet can replace other high-energy feeds, which will reduce intake of, for example, starch, and further reduce chances of laminitis.  Adding its quick soaking properties (with additional benefits of optimum water-holding capacities), Speedi-Beet is an extremely versatile feedingstuff, high in energy and available nutrients, with the advantage of being recognised as being suitable for laminitics.

This article has been reproduced by kind permission of British Horse Feeds, manufacturers of Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet.