Horse feed manufacturing methods 101- quality concerns are analyzed for the Horse Owner
Posted | Tags: Nutrition
With all the advances in manufacturing technology, one would think horse feed would be perfect and consistent 100% of the time. Unfortunately, the manufacturing process doesn’t work perfectly every time, all the time. This is why the same feed may seem to change from time to time or look different when purchased from a different dealer or in a different part of the country. Common quality concerns over feed consistency are the dryness or wetness of textured feeds, differences in smell, differences in pellet size and color and contamination of ingredients not on the tag, such as corn or oats. In rare cases, feed may contain a foreign object, like a bolt or piece of plastic.
The differences in liquid appearance (too dry or wet) are often associated with age. The older the feed, the drier it looks. Feed mills have specific guidelines for how old feed can be before it can no longer be shipped to a dealer. Old feed is usually an issue when dealers don’t properly rotate feed or when some feeds don’t sell as well as others and age at the retail store. Customers should always question if a bag or feed looks old. Feed freshness is an ongoing debate, but typically before any nutrients degrade, the feed will become unsightly. The recommended dating on feeds is dependent on region of the country and time of year.
From a manufacturing standpoint, liquid addition is computer-controlled. Molasses and soy oil are typically added in a piece of equipment called a “blender.” A blender contains paddles that slowly move the feed along as the liquids are added. The length of the blender and number of nozzles where the liquids are added can vary and determine the length of agitation. A smaller shorter blender does not have as much paddle action and while all the liquids are applied, it may not coat all the particles as well. Therefore, feed may look darker or wetter while both had the same amount of liquids applied.
Finally, when liquids are applied at the blender, if the bulk density of the feed changes or if a filter on a pump is partially blocked, the proper amount of molasses may not be applied. Sometimes this is hard to determine immediately, but may cause the feed to dry out faster than normal.
Product smell and taste
All molasses is not necessarily the same. We looked at molasses from several different plants that manufacture Triple Crown and found distinctly different smells and tastes, even though the guarantees were the same. The source of raw molasses from different sugar plants is processed the same, but regional differences can cause a subtle taste and smell difference that we may not notice, but your horse may. This is one of the reasons we always recommend making feed changes over a period of 7 to 10 days and not overnight.
Pellet color differences
Sometimes you may notice a subtle color difference in the pellet within textured feeds or with pelleted feeds themselves. There are differences in color with grains regionally and differences in the processing of those grains. Therefore, there can be color differences in the ingredients produced, such as wheat midds, soybean meal and dried distillers or brewer’s grains. This does not necessary reflect any differences in nutrient value. Triple Crown is a fixed formula feed so any differences within one mill would be minimal, but differences between feed mills may be more pronounced. For least-cost formulated feeds, the actual ingredients may change and the color, smell and taste difference can be profound.
Another less common problem would be with the pellet mill itself. When the pellet mill first starts up or is at the end of the process, the ingredients have a longer retention time in the die, making the pellets darker and often shiny.
Pellet size differences
Sometimes pellet size or length may also differ. The diameter of the holes within the pellet mill can vary from mill to mill and as the life of the pellet mill die wears out over time, the diameter can change slightly. With some species, like rabbits, the length of the pellet is important. With horses, it is not so much of an issue. Some mill operators will adjust equipment to shear the pellets to a certain size, while others may just let them break off naturally. In addition, the handling of pellets after manufacturing can cause even more breakage. There are many reasons for pellet size or length differences, from mill to mill or even between shift operators, but it does not affect the nutritional content in any way and should not be a concern.
Other grain contamination (typically oats and/or corn)
Finding oats or corn in a feed when they are not part of the formula can be frustrating for some owners. To explain how this may happen, let’s follow oats from the field to the feed.
First, the oats are harvested and unloaded from the bin in the harvester to a truck for transport to the farmer’s own storage bin. From there, the oats are loaded again from the farmer’s bin and trucked to a bin at a grain elevator when they are sold. The grain elevator loads the oats, again, into another truck or rail car when they are sold to a feed mill. At the feed mill, they are transferred into a bin for further processing or go directly into the mixer to be part of the feed. Although one or two steps may be eliminated from this process, it is highly likely the oats have been in five different bins, on three different trucks, in five different elevators that transfer the oats into the bins, and on just as many conveyors that move the oats to the elevators. As you can see, the likelihood for some contamination of some other grains is relatively high.
Most feed mills buy and use a #2 Canadian Western (CW) grade of oat. This grade allows the oats to contain 2% of cereal grains other than wheat or barley and up to 4% total damage and foreign material. Corn would be the most common of the cereal grains that could contaminate the oats. This means that after all the harvesting and conveying, the oats must conform to this grading regulation when they arrive at the feed mill. This is not to say that all shipments have contamination, but it is possible and allowable up to a certain extent.
In addition, horse feeds are typically manufactured in conjunction with other horse feeds as part of the process to eliminate contamination with other species’ feeds. Therefore, it is likely that a feed containing oats or corn will be mixed prior to horse feeds that don’t contain these ingredients. So it is possible that some of the previous feed, containing oats or corn, could remain in the conveying equipment and would be removed with the beginning flow of a feed that doesn’t contain oats or corn. While all efforts are made to minimize any contamination of other ingredients, it sometimes happens with any feed mill, regardless of the company involved.
A good analogy happened to me the other day at lunch. I had ordered a side dish of corn and a friend ordered a side dish of cranberry sauce. As the waitress carried our order to the table, a piece of my corn spilled over into her cranberry sauce. So anytime you have a common conveyance, whether it is a conveyor in a feed mill or a waitress at your favorite restaurant, the potential for some minor contamination exists, but should not be a normal occurrence.
Contamination of feed clumps
In the conveying process of dry feed, and especially as it drops in a bin, dust is expelled and tends to collect in corners. As the dust accumulates, it eventually drops off and it usually gets mixed back into the product. However, sometimes the dust ball can become so compacted that it tends to stay in a ball. Then when molasses is applied, it looks like an unsightly ball of undistinguishable stuff that isn’t very appetizing. It is best to pick it out if seen and discard. Rarely does this represent a mold problem. Mold issues are typically not compacted and found throughout the bag and have a bad odor. In all cases, if you do not feel comfortable with the bag, return it to your dealer for replacement.
Contamination of foreign objects
Feed mills and trucks are mechanical equipment, and as such, they are prone to breaking. While mills, elevators and processing plants have magnets and screens to pick up larger particles, bolts, conveyor parts and other foreign material can break off from time to time and make it through the manufacturing process, both at the mill and the ingredient processing facilities.
The feed mills we use monitor trucking very closely and require documentation of what was in the truck prior to picking up any ingredient that comes into the feed mill, in addition to requiring specific cleaning requirements. Every manageable step is taken to avoid foreign objects in feed and the occurrence is very rare.
Stay tuned for our third installment on the process of Feed Manufacturing.