All About Horses & Nutrition: By Truly Understanding Horse Food Components, Equine Lovers Become Increasingly Empowered.
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Triple Crown Nutrition’s 1st of Two Articles Regarding Definitions of Horse Feed Ingredients.
While many of the ingredients we use in manufacturing feed are self-explanatory, some others may need some interpretation. This two part article will first address the macro ingredients and the second part will address the micro additions such as vitamins and minerals.
In order to determine what is really in your horse feed you need to understand some basics about ingredient listing on feed tags. It would help if your feed supplier listed the actual ingredients versus group or “generic listings” on the feed tag. Generic or collective listings can be found on a tag and read something such as “processed grain byproducts”. These generic listings can encompass up to 30 different ingredients that can be used interchangeably.
The order of the ingredients for horse feeds is required by the FDA but is only enforced by state law in just a very few states. If everything was in descending order (and Triple Crown does list in proper descending order), the information is still rather limited as you may want to know how much of one particular ingredient is present in a feed. The difference between one listing and the next can be significant or it can be minimal. For instance, ingredient #1 could be 90% of the formula and the #2 can be only 5%, or #1 can be 25% and #2 can be 24.5% of the total formula.
For the first installment, I will discuss the macro ingredients or those that will be typically listed first on the tag. The ingredients discussed are those found on a Triple Crown feed tag and will not include all of the ingredients potentially used by other feed companies.
First we’ll discuss ingredients usually added to provide additional calories.
- Oats (whole or crimped) – This would simply include cleaned oats either whole or processed through a crimper to squash the oat kernel to slightly improve digestibility. Most research indicates that the added value of crimping does not change the digestibility much as compared to the added cost of processing. While the lowest in soluble carbohydrates (starch and sugar typically denoted as NSC) and calories of the 3 primary grains, it is still high at around 50% NSC and not far below molasses. The oat hull is not very digestible and often seen in the manure. • Corn (whole, cracked or flaked) – As compared to oats, there is a significant difference in digestibility to have the corn processed in some manner versus just whole oats by as much as 40%. The difference between cracked corn and flaked corn is not significant in terms of digestibility.
- Corn is very low fiber and very high in NSC (at around 70%) and calories. Corn should be tested by the mill for potential mycotoxins that can be detrimental to horses. Most major feed companies do this but smaller, local operations should be questioned.
- Barley (whole or flaked) – Like corn, it is much more digestible if processed. Barley can look a lot like oats to the untrained eye. From a calorie and NSC viewpoint, it falls in the middle between corn and oats.(around 60% NSC)
Next, we discuss ingredients added as a source of higher calorie fiber.
- Alfalfa Meal – Simply ground alfalfa hay. The hay is typically first processed into pellets and then later ground for inclusion in feeds.
- Shredded Beet Pulp – Beet Pulp is the first of the by-products to be discussed. Sugar beets are grown and processed for sugar. There is no visible difference between sugar produced from sugar cane or sugar beets. In the process, the beets are washed, shredded and then cooked to remove the sugar content. The pulp that remains is then dehydrated and much of this by-product is pelleted and exported. Shredded beet pulp has increased in popularity within the horse community over the past 15 years because it is a very digestible fiber source containing very little lignin. The NSC of beet pulp is very low (typically under 20%) and there is no significant difference between plain beet pulp or beet pulp with molasses. The digestible energy of beet pulp is almost equal to that of oats. Beet pulp is an excellent fiber replacement but has some strange mineral properties and should be limited when fed separately but can be balanced as part of a feed formulation.
- Wheat Middlings (or Midds) – The hull of wheat is sorted into 2 different categories during the processing of flour depending on the amount of hull and flour that is contained. Wheat Bran, which many horse owners are familiar with, contains mostly hull with a very small amount of flour while the midds particles are a bit smaller and the final product contains a slightly higher level of flour. Midds are almost essential for pellet quality and the fiber digestibility is good.
- Distillers Dried Grains (DD Grains) – This by-product is the result of grain fermentation for either alcohol for consumption or for production of ethanol. The grains are ground and then yeast is added along with water and heat to convert the starches and sugars in the grains into alcohol leaving behind a low NSC ingredient high in protein and fat. The product is then dried to be used in feeds. Much of this by-product is fed wet to cattle. It has some properties that are unique to various processing plants so the inclusion rate is always limited.
Lastly, here are some ingredients used as a great source of protein (and amino acids)
- Soybean Meal – Soybean meal is the by-product of crush processing soybeans for soy oil and is the standard in horse feeds to increase protein content in feeds. Soybean meal is also naturally high in lysine, one of the essential amino acids required for horses.
- Soybean Hulls – The other by-product of crushing soybeans is the hulls of the soybeans. Some of the hulls are returned into the soybean meal but are limited to maintain a consistency of the product. Soybean hulls, like beet pulp, are very low in lignin and considered a “super fiber”.
Here are two more ingredients you’ll commonly find in feeds.
- Soybean Oil – This is the primary product extracted from crushing the soybeans. Soybean oil has a higher ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids as compared to corn oil. It is added to feeds to provide additional calories.
- Molasses – The molasses used in animal feeds is not the same as what you find in your home. It is a by-product of sugar cane processing and has a NSC level between corn and barley. The product used is a blend of cane molasses and vegetable fats. Molasses is used in conjunction with soy oil to keep textured feeds from segregating and, in a small amount, to help make a better pellet. Molasses isn’t always something to “fear” when you see it on a feed tag, while it may be listed on a tag in the third position, it may only make up 1% of the total feed.
Stay tuned for the second installment where we’ll discuss micro ingredients that are found in horse feeds and on the feed tag.