Fun With Feed Math! Part 4: Using Feed Tags

Posted on Leave a comment
 Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

We have talked about what information should be included on a feed tag, regardless of type of feed. In this article we will put that information into use to aid you in selecting the best (and perhaps most economical) feed for you to use. So let’s start with what the guaranteed analysis means to you.

Crude Protein- The amount of protein in horse feed is often the most talked about, but most misunderstood component of horse feed. Owners often select their horse feed solely on the percent protein with little consideration to other vital components of the diet. While protein is important, it is certainly not the only criteria by which you should select your feed. Horses need the amino acids contained in protein for maintenance as well as synthesis of body tissues such as muscle, bone, organs etc, as well as synthesis of hormones and enzymes necessary for body function. Horses which need more protein in the diet are those that are busy synthesizing more tissue such as growing horses, broodmares and lactating mares. Horses that are mature and not at work (our maintenance horses) will require the least amount of protein. For example, a 1100 lb maintenance horse will require between 540 g and 720 g of crude protein in the diet per day. The range in those numbers are due to differences in temperament (more or less active horses), environment etc. Using your feed tag, you can determine how much protein your horse is receiving. Let’s assume you selected a feed that contains 12% crude protein and you feed 4.5 kg or 10 lbs of feed (to learn to convert to lbs see below). Multiply the percent protein by the amount fed to determine the amount of protein provided.12% or 0.12 x 4.5 kg = 0.54 kg.12% or .12 x 10 lbs = 1.2 lbsYour horse is thus consuming 0.54 kg or 540 g of protein by eating that amount of feed. Now, don’t forget, the horse will also be receiving protein from the forage in his diet as well. Now compare that to the horse’s protein requirements. For a maintenance horse, he has already almost met his requirement even before we consider his hay! To determine where your horse fits in the chart, see Energy Requirements for the Working Class. Then use Table 1 below to find his protein requirements.

Table 1. Crude protein requirements in grams for horses of varying work intensities. These numbers are derived from the National Research Council, Nutrient Requirements of Horses. 2007 edition.
Work Intensity
Wt of horse (lbs.)MaintenanceLightModerateIntense

Most equine feeds will contain protein in a range of 8-16% of crude protein, with those higher in protein designed for the young growing horses or broodmares. Some feeds might be higher in protein, if they are designed to be a protein supplement, versus a typical concentrate fed for energy.

Math Time

Pounds versus kilograms. Many horse owners are often frustrated by the different units provided by feed tags, nutritionists, books etc. In our protein example I have provided the horses requirements in grams. However, most individuals in the United States think in pounds. So let’s learn how to convert back and forth shall we! To convert grams to pounds, remember that there are 1000 grams in every kilogram. So using my numbers above I would take 540g and divide by 1000 to convert to kg. Therefore, my maintenance horse needs between 0.540 kg and 0.720 kg of protein per day. Now, changing from lbs to kilograms is fairly easy. One kilogram is equivalent to 2.24 lbs. Many times we will round down to 2.2 lbs/kg for simplicities sake. Now let’s convert our numbers from above.

.540 kg x 2.2 lbs/kg = 1.2 lbs.

.720 kg x 2.2 lbs/kg = 1.6 lbs.

To covert lbs to kg, you simply do the opposite, and instead of multiplying, you would divide by 2.2. If I had 5lbs of feed, and wanted to convert it to kg, I would use the following equation: 5 lbs ÷ 2.2 lbs/kg = 2.3 kg. Remember, numerically, the amount in kgs will always be less than it is in lbs. For example, an 1100 lb horse is equivalent to a 500 kg horse.

Crude Fat –Those horse owners looking for more bang for the buck should pay attention to the crude fat in their horse feed. Addition of supplemental fat to a feed greatly increases the amount of calories in a feed. This is important as fat is a very efficient and safe way to add energy to a horse’s diet compared to adding traditional grains, such as corn and oats. Horses do quite well at digesting fat, and as long as it is not fed in excessive amounts (over 20% of the diet), find it tasty as well. Typically, a non-fat added feed will contain less than 4% fat, with those feeds with additional fat containing between 6 and 15% fat. But what about Omega Horseshine®, which last month I showed you contained 30% fat? Well, that is because Horseshine® is not a traditional concentrate but rather a specific fat supplement. As its primary ingredient is flax seed (37-40% fat), we would expect that this product would be much higher in overall percent fat. Be sure to refer to back to Equine Energy Requirements to decide if your horse would benefit from a fat added feed.
Crude Fiber- Crude fiber is often used to reflect the amount of energy in a horse feed. Typically, fibers will contribute less energy to a horse’s diet than do low fiber feeds such as grains. Low fiber feeds usually will then contain more soluble carbohydrates and thus energy. For example, corn is typically 10% fiber and has 3.9 Mcal/kg while grass hays can range between 50 and 70% fiber and will contain between 2 and 2.3 Mcal/kg (all numbers are expressed on a dry matter basis). Thus there is typically an inverse relationship between fiber and energy content. Even between typical grains fed to horses we can have a significant variation between fiber content. Let’s compare oats versus corn. Oats, which are often thought of as a safer feed for horses, typically contain between 30 and 40% fiber due to the presence of the hull, and thus contribute only 3.2 – 3.3 Mcal/kg to the horse.
Fiber and the 21st Century Previously it was quite easy to predict the energy content of concentrate feeds for horses based on the fiber content. This relationship still exists, provided the feed contains less than 12% crude fiber. However, many equine feeds are now formulated to contain much more fiber, as researchers have discovered many downsides to feeding high starch diets to horses. Higher fiber feeds usually also have the addition of fat, which offsets the lowering of caloric content by choosing less nutrient dense feeds. Horse feeds that contain beet pulp, alfalfa meal, soybean hulls etc will often be higher in fiber, but coupled with rice bran or flaxseed for the added fat boost of energy.
Calcium and Phosphorous –We will discuss these two very important minerals together. The amount of calcium and phosphorous in the diet is absolutely critical for growing horses and broodmares. These animals are rapidly forming bone which will be crucial for a sound, productive life. Imbalances of these nutrients in your broodmare’s or foal’s diet can cause permanent changes in bone and cartilage which can lead to painful developmental problems in the future. Expect that feeds designed for these classes of horses will be higher in calcium and phosphorous than those designed for maintenance horses. We discussed previously in our article, Broodmares and Babies, the idea of the all important calcium to phosphorous ratio. Remember, you should never have more phosphorous in the diet than you have calcium. At a minimum, you should have a 1:1 ratio between calcium and phosphorous, with a ratio of 2:1 in favor of calcium more ideal. However, I can’t stress this enough, remember, that your horse’s diet does not exist solely of the feed you choose, but also the forage! Always try to select your horses’ concentrate with consideration of not only it’s class, but also what you base the horse’s diet on –it’s hay!
Copper- Copper is an important mineral needed by horses for the function of many key enzymes. It plays an important role in the formation of collagen, and thus is critical for proper joint development in young horses. Copper also aids in iron metabolism as well as the elimination of free radicals in the body. However, it is needed in much smaller amounts than Ca and P, and thus is referred to as a micro-mineral. Its concentration in your feed will be listed in the units ppm or parts per million. An equivalent way to think of Cu concentration would also be mg/kg, as there are 1 million milligrams in every kilogram. Let’s use Horseshine® once again. Looking at the label, we can see it contains 116 ppm Cu. If you fed one half pound of this supplement per day (or 0.5 lbs ÷ 2.2 lbs/kg = 0.227 kg) your horse would be receiving 0.277 kg of Horseshine®. To determine the amount of Cu the horse is eating, multiply the amount fed by the concentration in the feed, just like we did for protein.0.277 kg x 116 mg/kg = 26 mg of copperTherefore, Horsehine® is adding 26 mg of copper to your horse’s diet per day.
Zinc –Zinc, like copper, is considered a micro-mineral, and is also listed in parts per million on the feed tag. It plays a similar role in aiding in enzyme function, but in such a wide array in the body as to be too numerous and diverse to mention. It is frequently added to commercial equine feeds due to the variability in hays and forage. Using our same serving of Horseshine, zinc is listed at 321 ppm. Thus, the horse gets 89 mg of Zn with every serving (0.227 kg x 321mg/kg = 89 mg).
Selenium –Selenium is often one of the most commonly discussed minerals is horse nutrition, mainly due to its essential function in the immune system and role as an anti-oxidant, but also due to its tremendous variability in feeds across the country. In the United States, some regions are considered selenium rich and some selenium deficient. Thus forages or hays produced in different areas can vary from selenium deficient to even reaching toxic levels of selenium. Even weather conditions can cause alterations in Se content of feed, as drought conditions can greatly increase selenium uptake by plants. Overall, selenium may certainly be needed to be supplemented in the equine diet, but in much lower concentrations than even Cu or Zn. Most feeds will vary in the range of 0.1 to 0.5 ppm of selenium in order to meet the horses’ requirements, but to avoid any toxicity issues.
Vitamin A- Vitamin A is needed by the horse in much larger quantities compared to other vitamins. Horses consuming green forages (grazing horses) typically meet their needs quite easily. However, horses which consume a primarily harvested forage diet (hay) might have a possibility of becoming deficient, especially if the hay has been stored for a great length of time. The vitamin A content of hay does decrease over time, with a large percent of all vitamin A lost over one year’s storage of hay. Thus, most commercial feeds are supplemented to ensure adequate intake by the horse.


Fun With Feed Math! Part 3: Ulcers: Is Your Horse Stressed

Posted on Leave a comment
Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

The last article briefly discussed the horse’s gastrointestinal system and the challenge it presents to feeding management. This month we will discuss a specific disorder, equine gastric ulcer syndrome. Just like us, horses can suffer from painful gastric ulcers which can lower their performance ability, and certainly their overall health and well being. Due to their unique physiology they may be even more susceptible to ulcers than other domestic animals. Symptoms of ulcers include decreased feed intake, lowered performance, a rough hair coat, laying down excessively or even grinding their teeth.

GI Tract Again   

When wondering why horses seem to be so prone to ulcers, it is important to really think about what their digestive anatomy is designed to do. In the stomach of the equine, there are two regions, a glandular region which secretes hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, and a non-glandular region in the upper or proximal part of the horse’s stomach. The mucosal cells of the horses glandular portion are well suited to protect against the acids that would normally be present in the horse’s stomach. However, the cells in the non-glandular region are not as protective, and repeated exposure to digestive acids can result in creation of lesions in the stomach. Now normally, this is not a large problem for the grazing horse. When a horse is eating continually, they will be constantly producing saliva with buffers that serve to increase the pH in the horse’s stomach, and prevent any damage to the mucosa. When horses are not eating, no saliva enters the stomach, and the pH begins to drop. This can occur within 5-6 post eating. As stated last month, if your horse remains without feed for 10 hours, his stomach will be completely empty, and the pH drops even lower. Foals are especially susceptible, and any foal that goes off feed due to illness may end up with a secondary problem of ulcers. Look for your foal to be grinding their teeth or lying on their back. These are classic signs of ulcers in foals.

Is Grain the Problem?We also see an increase in ulcer prevalence in horses that are on high grain diets. Now this may actually be due to a combination of factors, which we will see soon. But high concentrate feeding itself can be a culprit. When horse’s are fed concentrates, either in the form of pelleted or whole grains, the amount of time a horse will relatively spend consuming that feed will be less than that on long stem forage. It simply takes less “chews” to eat a pound of grain vs a pound of hay. Less chews equal less saliva production as well as a longer interval between the next feeding (ie he finishes faster). In addition, concentrates themselves cause production of a different type of volatile fatty acid production in the stomach. While the hind gut was long considered the sole domain of fermenting bacteria in the equine, we now know that isn’t true. Microbes do indeed exist in the stomach of the horse, and some types will flourish on a higher grain diet. This particular bacteria result in production of more acidic waste products, which further decrease your horse’s stomach pH.
What Else is Going Wrong?As I said earlier, it may be incorrect to point the finger solely at feeding horses high amounts of concentrates. After all, what types of horses consume large amounts of concentrate? Hopefully you remember from our earlier series which types of horses need high amounts of Mcals. These are typically heavily working performance horses that need the grain in the diet to meet their caloric needs. But what else is unique about these guys? One, they are exercising more, which in itself may help contribute to the problem. When horses are galloping, the abdominal contents of the horse are essentially “squished” forward as the hind legs reach up under the horse prior to the forelegs reaching back forward. This forces the more acidic contents of the glandular portion of the horse’s stomach up into the less well-protected non-glandular region.Secondly, performance horses are frequently stalled individually. It is simply a fact of the matter that these horses must be kept blemish free and protected from too much rough play with others. Some horses even have an aptitude to hurt themselves when playing on their own too vigorously. However, stalling can be a source of mental stress for horses, as it eliminates their natural tendency for continual movement throughout the day, as well as their foraging behavior. It also removes the horse from its natural desire to be a herd animal. Horses in the wild are never seen in isolation, unless they are sick or injured. Therefore, isolation can be extremely stressful for some horses.   

Another leading cause of ulcers is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS. These drugs block an enzyme necessary in the pathway that produces prostaglandins that cause inflammation. However, as these drugs are not specific for blocking production of only one type of prostaglandin, they also block formation of the prostaglandins which help maintain gastric mucosal integrity and are anti-inflammatory. Therefore, long term use of NSAIDS can almost certainly cause ulcers in horses, and is typically avoided unless necessary. However, the rigors of training and exercise may cause theses horses to be provided NSAIDS more frequently than horses in only light or recreational riding.

Even the career of your horse may be stressful. Racehorses have a much higher incidence of ulcers than other types of performance horses, but again this could be attributed to many factors: high concentrate diets, stalling, exercise etc. Even transport has been reported as ulcer inducing. In a group of thoroughbreds, transport for 6 hours was reported to increase the prevalence of lesions in the stomach, however this was not observed in western performance horses. I would propose that simply the personality of the horse plays a large role. Is your horse a fretter and a worrier or one that could happily march through a parade without batting an eye? After all, ulcers are more common in us type A individuals than our more laidback neighbors!

Prevention.One of the easiest ways to control the incidence of ulcers in horses is to alter our management strategies. Feeding horses at more frequent intervals, or providing meals of long stem forage at an amount to prevent an absence of feed availability is ideal. That may mean spreading out the feeding interval to 12 hours or by providing your horse with a larger evening meal to last closer to breakfast. Also consider the type of feed you are using. Long stem forage will cause a horse to chew for a longer period of time, compared to pelleted rations. Horses that are on complete feed are especially more likely to be “out of feed” for a longer period of time unless your horse is a committed nibbler. Even horses on complete feeds due to loss of teeth can benefit with the offering of hay to munch on in between feedings.We can also try to decrease the stress level of horses, which may be easier said than done. After all, what is stressful for one individual may not be for another. Look for behavioral signs that let you know your horse needs more turnout time or more social contact. Try to reduce the stress of trailering by making sure your horse is trained to load easily and travel quietly. Make sure you are not a stressful driver either, taking corners too sharp or braking too suddenly!   

There is also some limited research that suggests that the type of hay fed to horses may alter the incidence of ulcers. Horses on an alfalfa based diet relative to a grass hay diet appear to have lower incidence of ulcers. It is unknown whether this may be due to the protein or calcium content of the hay.

Alternative to NSAIDSMuch research in both humans and horses has been aimed at dietary interventions to prevent inflammation. The use of omega-3 fatty acids has been repeatedly shown to decrease inflammation in humans, and has had some promising use in horses as well. Addition of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet helps to block production of arachidonic acid, which is a producer of inflammatory thromboxanes, prostaglandins etc. Thus, use of adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may lessen the need for use of NSAIDS as therapy in the performance horse. In addition, polyunsaturated fatty acids may be able to help protect against gastric ulcers. In rats given dexamethasone to induce ulceration, a diet high in PUFA helped to suppress ulcers and maintained the normal lipid bilayer in the gastric mucosa. Furthermore, addition of omega 3 fatty acids may lower the stress experienced by horses as measured by cortisol production (a hormone related to stress). In mares provided with an omega-3 fatty acid source, cortisol levels were lower than controls following a period of stall confinement used to induce stress. Thus, while not proven to be a direct preventative of ulcer formation in horses, there is much promising data to indicate the effectiveness of omega 3 fatty acids as a dietary aid.   

For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat, strong solid hooves, and top performance – and for clear and consise labels – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


Fun With Feed Math! Part 2: Rules to Feed By

Posted on Leave a comment

Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

Now that we have finished our discussion concerning our horses energy requirements, we are going to turn our attention to how best to deliver those calories to our horses. Over the next few months, we will discuss many confusing issues facing horse owners concerning the type, quantity, and quality of our feeds. As horse owners are barraged with information concerning grazing, metabolic syndrome, obesity and ulcers, it is sometimes easy to get lost in the conflicting information. So we are going to take it step by step, and do our best to understand these complex issues. Hopefully we all know that our duty as horse owners is to feed our horses a diet which maximizes their health, both physically and mentally. This month we will discuss strategies for feeding horses that will optimize not only the health of their digestive system, but keep them mentally sound as well. To understand how best to feed horses, we first need discuss the true nature of a horse prior to its domestication and modern management practices.

How the horse got started.

Horses certainly didn’t evolve on the lush pastures of Kentucky behind beautiful wooden fences. They were plains animals who drifted about continuously looking for sources of food. Horses successfully existed through times of rapid growth of grasses in the spring but also through the dormancy of fall and winter, times of drought etc. Compare that idea to horses who now have laminitis issues with grazing lush pastures! If we examine how horses naturally forage, they are selective grazers who seek out the most nutritious plants at particular stages of growth. Thus they moved continuously as they look for plants with greater palatability, and presumably more nutritional value to the horse. Feral horses will typically spend from one half to two-thirds of their day grazing, moving continuously as they graze. That means horses are meant to eat small amounts continuously and to travel extensively as they do so. Studies on grazing horses have shown that typically horses will cover 1-3 miles per day as they forage.

Grazing too much?The amount of time foraging is dependent upon the nutrient density of the pasture. The more sparse the vegetation, the more need for grazing time. Imagine wandering on the open plains searching for feed compared to grazing on well manicured pastures in Kentucky! On modern pastures that are managed well and improved with fertilization and seeding, it does not take as much time for the horse to meet its nutrient requirements. That is why we often see horses managed on pastures which are able to get fat, compared to feral horses. They are also confined to a greater extent, and thus may not be getting the amount of exercise a feral horse would receive. Additionally, many breeds of horses were originally selected from individuals who were more efficient at using feed. Think of our more docile breeds who have an easy going temperament. This personality type is often linked with the “thrifty” genotype. These guys (think ponies, Quarter Horses, Morgans, etc.) often have more problems with obesity and obesity related issues. In fact, this is such an important, and confusing, issue, we will address this problem specifically in an upcoming issue.

Let’s look on the inside!

From what we stated previously about the “normal” life for a horse, the horse’s digestive system is designed to deal with small amounts of food taken in continuously throughout the day. When we look at a horse’s digestive system, this easily makes sense. In comparison to our dogs, or cats, a horse’s stomach makes up a relatively small percentage of its entire tract. The stomach makes up about 10% of the entire tract, while the hind gut of the horse comprises 65% percent of the horse’s digestive capacity. While carnivores are considered to be opportunistic meal feeders (Eat as much as possible when you catch something because you never know when your next meal is coming!) horses are designed to eat small amounts (or continuous steady intake) throughout the day. The rate of passage, or how fast food moves out of the stomach, is fairly rapid. Two hours after eating, half of the solid particulate matter has passed out of the stomach, with ingesta reaching the hind gut within 5 hrs, while the stomach will be completely empty 10 hours post feeding.

So what does this mean for the horse? Interestingly, the horse’s ability to salivate is directly tied to mouth movements. In other words, they salivate when they chew. In other species, such as cattle, the salivary glands continuously produce saliva, of which a significant component is sodium bicarbonate. This continuous salivation buffers the rumen (or the foregut) of cattle and helps to prevent a drop in pH (or preventing an acidic environment). Compare this again to our meal feeders, (dogs, cats, and us), which salivate when we anticipate a meal. This helps the food slide down the esophagus with greater ease. Horses in the natural state have a relatively steady supply of saliva entering their stomach, with buffers included, as they graze throughout the day. However, compare the natural state to what happens when we manage horses in the typical box stall setting. Horses are provided with feed twice a day, with sometimes a prolonged period of time between their evening meal and the morning feeding. When the horse has not been provided with feed after 5-6 hours, the pH of their stomach begins to drop. This is why feeding strategies can directly impact our horse’s health. With a repeated drop in pH, the horse becomes susceptible to ulcers. Couple this with other risk factors for ulcer development and we can get a pretty unhappy horse. So our first rule of feeding horses is to provide enough forage to prevent the horse from being without anything to eat, ideally for less than six hours but at least avoiding a completely empty stomach 10 hrs post eating. Next month we will discuss ulcers in horses in depth.


From a riding perspective, we like it when horses salivate when they are ridden. This is typically equated with a horse being “soft in the face or jaw”. These horses are using their jaw and tongue and thus are not locked or stiff through the jaw resisting the rider. We often use bits that have a copper component which encourages salivation. Ever put a penny in your mouth? What happens? As horses salivate they will swallow, and this again helps to prevent a horse from stiffening through his jaw.

The stomach of the horse is not the only part of the digestive tract we need to be concerned with. As horses are designed to graze, their natural diet consists of longstem forages. While they possess the digestive capacity to utilize grains such as corn and oats, these would not make up a significant portion of the horses’ natural diet. However, we sometimes need to supply our horses with more energy dense sources of feeds when their energy requirements go up, such as moderate or intense exercise. We may also find ourselves sometimes short of hay due to prices, drought, supply shortages etc. Thus we may need to look at alternative feed sources than our typical baled hay. However, as horses are designed to ferment forages in their cecum and hind gut, it is important that we keep that fermentation functioning properly. To ensure this proper function, we need to feed horses at least 1 % of their body weight in forage per day. That means if your horse weighs 1200 lbs, it should never receive less than 12 lbs of hay or forage per day. Now if you actually weigh that out, you would see that really isn’t that much at all. Ideally, the horse should receive closer to 2% of their body weight in hay per day. So double that 12 lbs to 24 and you will be much closer to what the horse would naturally consume. On their own, horses will consume about 2-3% of their body weight per day. How we provide that amount, or if we provide that amount of feed, is up to us.

For horses that have high energy requirements, it may be necessary to provide them with extra concentrate. However, large meals of concentrates may not be great for gut health. If the rate of concentrate intake exceeds that of the horse’s ability to digest it in the small intestine, it escapes to the hindgut of the horse. Here, there are types of bacteria that will thrive on this meal of simple carbohydrates. Unfortunately, this carbohydrate fermenting bacteria will produce more acidic by products. The lowering of pH in the hindgut can set off a chain of unhealthy events, including laminitis, colic, diarrhea etc. Thus, horses should never be fed concentrate meals (the grain portion) in levels of over 0.5 to 0.6% of their body weight at one time. Beyond this point, we exceed the capacity of the horse’s small intestine to digest and absorb the meal. For our 1200 lb horse, that means that his grain meal should never be over 6-7 lbs. If the horse truly requires that much grain (12-14 lbs per day), the best solution would be to split the concentrate into multiple, smaller meals.

Fun With Feed Math! Part 1: Demystifying The Label

Posted on Leave a comment
Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

In our previous series we discussed the energy needs of horses, how they are calculated, how they differ between classes or types of horses, and how your feeding strategies should reflect the energy needs of the horse. For this series, we are going to switch gears a little, and focus on understanding commercial feed tags. In today’s equine feed market, there are an overwhelming number of feeds and types of feeds available to select for your horse. It certainly can be bit confusing at times. Our goal is to clear up some of the confusion and allow you to make the best choices based on your horse’s needs.

Types of feeds available.Typically, concentrates (what most horse owners refer to as grain or feed) are added to the equine diet to supply additional energy that cannot be met by hay consumption, or to supply additional protein. We will consider anything not in the classification of forage or roughage to fall into the “horse feed” category. When shopping for horse feed, you should know there are different classifications of feeds available: textured feeds, processed feeds, complete feeds, and supplements.
Textured feeds.    

Textured feeds are those we typically think of as sweet feeds. They contain whole grains such as corn, oats, soybeans etc. that have been processed so that the horse can digest them more easily. Typically the grains are cracked, crushed, crimped or rolled which breaks up the outer layer of the kernel to allow the horse’s digestive enzymes easier access to the internal contents of the seed. The term “sweet feed” originates with the practice of adding molasses to the feed to enhance the flavor of the feed, suppress the dustiness of the feed, and to bind together additional ingredients. As most feeds are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals vital to the horse, it is important than these ingredients do not settle out of the feed and remain uneaten. The molasses essentially helps to prevent that from happening. Plus, most horses just plain love molasses!

Processed feeds.The second types of feed commonly encountered by the horse owner are the processed feeds. Rather than being able to identify individual grains, these feeds are either pelleted or extruded. Pelleting essentially eliminates the concern of the fine particles (such as the vitamins and minerals) from being sorted out and thus ensures that the horse is receiving all nutrients intended by the feed manufacturer. Extruded feeds are produced under pressure and heat to create a lighter, less dense product which would more closely resemble dog food. As extruded feeds take longer for your horse to chew, there are some advantages to feeding these if your horse likes to rapidly ingest its feed. Further, prolonging chew time has some real advantages for your horse’s health (which we will discuss in the coming months). While both pelleted and extruded feeds have some advantages for feeding, realize the feed company has more processing involved, thus these products will cost more.
Complete feeds.Complete feeds are those that are intended to potentially serve as the horse’s only source of feed, and may serve to replace the forage component of the feed. These feeds have a fiber source added to the more traditional cereal grains, such as chopped hay, beet pulp or other fiber sources. While they serve the same purpose of maintaining the gut health of the horse as feeding hay, your horse may not consider it the same! The amount of time the horse spends eating will be less if only these feeds are fed, with no long stem forage. Ideally for the normal healthy horse, we recommend feeding 2% of their body weight in hay per day. (More on that again soon). So who are they appropriate for? For one, the senior horses who have poor teeth. It is vital that these horses are still consuming roughage, albeit in a different form than from their younger years. Older horses may not be able to properly chew hay, but they still have the desire to forage. Allowing them a source of hay to pick through is a great way to keep the old guys happy. Complete feeds are also quite handy if your forage supply is questionable, either from lack of supply or quality. As hay making is quite dependent on the weather, there certainly may be times where it becomes necessary to feed complete feeds to horses. They may also make a handy way to travel with your horse, as they are less bulky to handle and transport than hay bales.

Omega Horseshine Bag

The final category of horse feeds available fall into the category of supplements. These feeds are designed to supply protein, specific amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins or minerals to the horse which may be missing from its diet. While a properly fortified textured, pelleted/extruded, or complete feed may eliminate the need for supplements, many people seek supplements to optimize the diet of their horse. Omega Horsehine® and Omega Grande® would both be examples of supplements. They are fed in amounts less than that of traditional horse feed, and are formulated to supply key essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Often times horses can meet their energy needs solely from forage alone, and many supplements are designed to meet the shortfall in specific nutrients that the forage may lack. Thus some specific supplements may eliminate the need to increase the grain component of the diet and provide calories the horse doesn’t need.


The feed or supplement you select must always be based first from the type of forage or roughage your horse is consuming! This is the bulk of what your horse consumes and feeds should be selected that complement your hay. For example, if you are feeding your horse high quality alfalfa hay which is high in protein, you do not need a high protein concentrate! Always consider your hay selection first!

What does a feed tag have to tell you?First, we need to discuss what information you will always find on a feed tag. On every feed label, both the product name and brand name must be included, so that the feed is identifiable. It will also include what the product is intended for, such as the type of horse including activity level, age, and reproductive state. This will provide you with an immediate guide to determine if the feed is appropriate for your horse. If you have a young, growing horse, you should look for a feed designed to meet the increased nutrient demands for growth.
Guaranteed Analysis.    


Omega Nibblers Guaranteed Analysis

The second key piece of information on a feed tag is the guaranteed analysis. The following must always be included by the feed company on every product it sells: the minimum amount of crude protein, the minimum amount of crude fat, the maximum amount of crude fiber, both the minimum and maximum amount of calcium and the minimum amount of phosphorous. All of these will be listed in a percentage basis. Other nutrients will be listed in parts per million or ppm. For equine feeds, copper, zinc and selenium will all be included on the feed tag in these units. Finally, the amount of Vitamin A will be listed in International Units/lb or IU/lb (if needed). Many times the feed companies will include much more information, especially if the feed is designed for specific types of horses.


Let’s look at Omega Horseshine’s feed tag information- as it appears on the new 20 lb bag. The values highlighted in red are those that Omega Fields is required by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to provide on their label. Those in black are not required, but may be of special interest to those selecting Omega Horseshine®.

Ingredient list.Third, after the guaranteed analysis, the feed company must then include a list of ingredients used to make the feed. The ingredients will be listed in the order of the ingredient included at the largest quantity to the ingredient included at the smallest level. Manufacturers may list specific feeds (such as corn or oats) or may use the term grain products. Grain products indicate some sort of processing method has occurred such as flaking, grinding etc. You may also see ingredients listed such as plant protein products. These are collective terms for an ingredient class. For example, cottonseed meal, linseed meal, soybean meal and yeast could all be included under the term plant protein product. The company is then able to change ingredients, usually dependent on market prices and availability, without changing the feed label. This allows the company some flexibility in the manufacturing process as to which ingredients may be selected, provided it does not change the guaranteed analysis of nutrient content! Other examples of collective feed terms are animal protein products (fish meal, meat meal, bone meal, skimmed milk, dried whey etc.), grain products (barley, corn, oats, wheat, etc.), processed grain products (brewers dried grains, wheat millings, distillers dried grains etc.) or roughage products (barley hulls, beet pulp, rice hulls etc.)In looking at our feed tag for Omega Horseshine® we can see that the three main ingredients are the flaxseed, yeast and ground oats. After these three products, the next ingredients listed are the minerals followed by vitamins, which is reflective of the amount of these items required in the equine diet.
Other information.Finally, the feed company will usually provide other information on their feed tag, such as feeding guidelines. This may include how much of the feed to provide, recommendations on the amount of forage to be fed or other such information. Providing the feed in the amount recommended by the feed company allows the feed to function as the manufactures designed it. For example, if one fed Omega Horseshine at only 1/4 cup per day, the horse would not be receiving the amount of Omega 3, minerals, and vitamins the feed was designed to provide in a daily ration. Conversely, over-feeding a feed can also be detrimental, as you may then be providing excess nutrients to your horse.The next article in this series will look at using feed tags according to horse’s actual nutrient requirements. This will involve a little bit of math, so get your calculators ready!