How To Compare Horse Feed Brands
Understanding the Fine Details Behind Horse Feed Nutrient Labeling Can Help Minimize Serious Equine Health Risks.
With so many products on the market, choosing a horse feed can be confusing. However, if you take the time to review all the feed tags and literature, there are less than ten basic feeding concepts; the hundreds of available feeds are just variations of those concepts. The variations could be the form of the feed, such as pellets, textured and extruded, or the differences in additives available, such as the inclusion of prebiotics and probiotics. But the basic uses for feed remain the same—for growth, performance, maintenance, etc.
Did you ever hear someone say, “Our feed is the same as theirs, but cheaper?” This is typically never the case and should never be used as a sales tool for differentiating one feed from another. Feed companies should sell their products based on features and benefits. The following are some examples of how “same as, but cheaper” is not a viable selling tool.
Feed tags provide good information but can be misleading when comparing feed products from different companies. Law requires some nutrient guarantees, while some are offered to provide additional information for the consumer. Comparing guarantees head-to-head can be helpful if the differences are significant. For instance, Triple Crown Senior guarantees 1.3 million CFUs (colony forming units)/gram or 590.2 million CFUs/lb. of lactobacillus acidophilus. A recent “same as, but cheaper” product guarantees only 113.5 CFUs/lb.; not 113.5 million, but just 113.5. That is significantly less than one percent of what Triple Crown guarantees.
Other guarantees are closer and of limited value when comparing information, such as a copper guarantee at 55 ppm compared to 60 ppm or even Vitamin A at 6,000 IU/lb. compared to 8,000 IU/lb. Both easily meet the National Research Council (NRC) recommendations. However, mineral sources are different and that affects the effectiveness of the nutrient and cost of the finished feed. For instance, copper oxide is very inexpensive but virtually indigestible; copper sulfate is more digestible but costs more, and organic copper (copper proteinate) is even better absorbed, but more expensive. On the tag, the amount of copper guaranteed would be the same no matter the source, but the digestibility would be significantly different.
The same feed mentioned previously only lists three organic minerals, not the five found in Triple Crown, and they are listed last on the tag. So like probiotics, they can say they are there, even in extremely small amounts, and still be included on the tag. While no one uses 100% organic minerals, at least 20% of the minerals in question need to be organic for any benefit. Triple Crown’s organic inclusion rate is 40%; the other 60% are sulfates. The only exception is magnesium, where the oxide form is actually largely available to horses. Furthermore, 100% of the selenium Triple Crown uses is organic and listed as selenium yeast. Again, the previously mentioned feed uses a combination of both. Selenium yeast is much safer than the inorganic forms listed at sodium selenite or sodium selenate. Most companies rely heavily on both oxides and sulfates to make up the vast majority of the mineral content.
Another way to lower feed costs is through formulation. Triple Crown uses a fixed formulation, keeping the same ingredients in the same proportion, week in and week out, across the country. The only time the formula changes are when new research indicates that we can make an improvement.
The two largest feed companies in the country use least-cost formulation, sometimes referred to as nutrient-based formulation, for most of their horse feeds, especially the more popular ones. Ingredients change as often as every week to provide the lowest cost while still meeting tag guarantees. Least cost formulation companies state they test each raw material delivery for nutrient content and contamination, but every major feed company has similar quality control procedures, regardless of the formulation method. By law, every feed company must meet the guarantees on the back of their bags, so fixed formulation companies provide nutritional information just as accurately as those doing least-cost formulation.
Not to be overlooked, changes in ingredients can have a significant impact on horses needing to maintain a lower non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) level or those with specific allergies. If you are concerned about starch and sugars and you are feeding a feed you feel is safe, and then corn is substituted for a product like wheat midds for cost reasons, it will have a dramatic effect on starch and sugar content. Ground corn and wheat midds can be used in a similar manner nutritionally, but the first is 60% NSC; the second-mentioned is 30% NSC.
Because there is more to a feed than fat, protein, and fiber…we encourage you to compare your feed brand to Triple Crown with our new Comparison website!