The VMC Equine Feeding Blogs – Part 1

I see a lot of horses, and I see a lot of owners who want to make sure their horses are being fed well. However, I also see a lot of confusion as to what my horse SHOULD be eating, and a lot of incorrect assumptions.  For this reason, I will be presenting a series of blogs on equine feeding. If you have questions please email me at drcallahan@vmceaston.com.

How do I pick the right feed company?

Selecting the right feeds for your horses can be a time consuming and often confusing task. There are multiple options – low starch, high performance, mare and foal, ration balancer, high fat… It makes your head spin!  And the manufacturers, the list seems endless…

To help to narrow down your choices, here is a checklist you can use to help find companies that make high quality, safe, and consistent horse feeds.

Horse dedicated manufacturer

Only a handful of feed manufacturers run a horse dedicated mill. Being horse dedicated means that the risk of anything that could be harmful or even deadly to horses like ionophores (monensin), or antibiotics is eliminated. IF a feed isn’t coming out of a horse dedicated manufacturing facility it is immediately put onto my ‘no’ list. There have been catastrophic mix ups in mixed species mills that have resulted in the deaths of many horses over the years so it just isn’t worth the risk. Choose ones that have dedicated mills.

Set recipes for feeds

There are two main ways a feed can be formulated and made. These are:

  • Least cost mixing, where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels of the feed are set but the manufacturer can choose from any number of ingredients at hand to make up the feed at least cost to them; or
  • The use of set recipes where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels AND the exact ingredients used are never changed.

To work out which method your feeds are currently being made by look at the ingredients list. Feeds made by least cost will have a statement something like ‘Ingredients selected from’ or ‘contains grains including…’ or they will list obscure ingredients like ‘vegetable protein meals’ which can be anything. Because of the way they are made, least cost feeds can have widely varying protein quality and starch contents from batch to batch which is not ideal for horses.

Choosing products from companies that make feeds using set recipes guarantees you a more consistent, higher quality product.

Protein quality and quantity

The quality of protein used in a feed is a major determinant of how well a horse does on that feed. Look for feeds that list high quality protein sources in the ingredients with soybean meal and full fat soybean being the most desirable followed by cottonseed meal, linseed meal (not linseed oil), brewers grains, distillers grains, alfalfa, and corn gluten. When choosing feeds, ask your manufacturer if they run any sort of testing for protein and what their protocol is for ingredients and feeds that don’t make the grade.

Independent laboratory testing

A company can write anything they like on their feed label with regards to the analysis of the feed. While most companies do a good job of this, some don’t, so it is a good idea to ask if the company regularly has its feeds tested by an independent laboratory to verify the contents of its horse feed. These results should also be made readily available to you on request if you wish to see them.

Further, horse feeds contain a high percentage of mineral ingredients including limestone, calcium phosphates and trace mineral premixes. These raw materials can be contaminated with heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury so it is also worth asking whether your feed manufacturer tests raw materials and their finished feeds for heavy metals. Their answer should be yes and they should have strict guidelines controlling their maximum allowed heavy metal levels.

 

While there are many other considerations when selecting horse feeds including cost, level of customer service and how well a feed fits your purpose, using the four criteria discussed above will help to narrow down your choices from 60+ companies to just a handful. Once you have your shortlist you can then move on to the finer points for the final selection of feeds for your horses.

That will be in our next blog… Stay tuned!

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan