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Your Horses Health



Forethought Key Ingredient When Altering Commercial Grain

Mixes For Horses

By Donald Stotts

STILLWATER - Additions of feed ingredients to commercially-prepared grain mixes for horses may increase the chance for equine health problems, according to an Oklahoma State University animal scientist.

It is a common practice on many horse operations to add feedstuffs to grain mixes in an effort to add to the nutritional value of a ration.

"Regardless of the intent, some additions provide little nutritional value, and actually may create health problems," said Dave Freeman, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service equine specialist.

Freeman said there are many products available for adding to the nutritional value of a ration; however, there are products marketed which are unclear in their intended purpose or which provide no real value as a supplement.

"Horse managers must estimate as accurately as possible the nutritional needs of a horse and what the ration is supplying before supplementation can be of value," Freeman said.

The need to supplement energy, protein, minerals or vitamins will be different between commercially-prepared grain mixes and non-formulated grains such as oats.

Three routine on-farm adjustments of commercially-prepared grain mixes involve adding protein supplements, oats or corn.

"The addition of a protein supplement is routinely recommended when protein and essential amino acids in the diet are of marginal value from combined grain mix and forage intake," Freeman said.

Protein supplementation occurs most commonly when nutritional programs need to be accelerated to meet some management objective, such as preparing growing horses for a sale or show.

"Results will depend on the nutrient profile of the grain mix and the type and quality of the forage being consumed, as well as the individual response of the horse," said Freeman.

As with other nutrients, there exists large variations between grain mixes in protein and amino acid levels of the original formulation.

"While many rations need protein supplementation, especially when feeding growing horses and lactating mares, too much protein can be costly," Freeman said. "Protein supplements also supply minerals and vitamins; these additions need to be taken into account as well."

Another common practice among horse managers is to add oats to grain mixes. This is done to reduce the energy content of the grain mix, as oats are lower in energy and higher in fiber than most mixed grain rations.

"In addition to being costly, this is not recommended unless the total ration is balanced for the addition of minerals that are added as part of oats," Freeman said. "The addition of oats will change the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio

in the ration to levels that can precipitate growth disorders in a horse."

Freeman said one alternative would be to increase fiber content by feeding less grain mix and using hay as a larger portion of the ration.

Other high-fiber feedstuffs, such as alfalfa meal, also may be an alternative to increase the fiber content in rations of horses on restricted forage diets.

"In many rations, alfalfa meal can be added to reduce the energy density of grain mixes while maintaining mineral balances more so than the addition of oats because of alfalfa meal's greater calcium content," Freeman said.

The third commonly viewed practice in altering commercially-prepared grain mixes is the on-farm addition of corn to the ration. This usually is done to increase the energy content of a grain mix, as corn is relatively high in starch and low in fiber.

Replacement of a portion of the grain mix with corn generally is not recommended in rations for growing horses because it creates imbalances in protein and energy, and alters the mineral profile of the ration.

"Also, corn products added on-farm should be tested for fusarium mold, especially cracked corn or corn screenings," Freeman said. "Ingestion of fusarium mold can be fatal to a horse."

Freeman said horse managers need to select a prepared grain mix based on the nutrient content of the hay used in their operations, then adjust the ration intake level to meet the desired growth rate.

Most formulated grain mixes contain added nutrients to maintain proper ratios at varying levels commonly fed to horses.

"Unknowledgeable mixing of whole grains to prepared rations is not only expensive, it may cause unfavorable production, growth or work performance in the horse," Freeman said.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Oklahoma State University for allowing us to provide you with this information.


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