VMC Equine Feeding Blog Part 2 – The Feed Tag

Welcome to the next segment in our VMC Equine Feeding Blogs!

So now we’ve picked the right feed company.  You are satisfied that you are getting quality ingredients from a horse feed specific mill.  What next?

Pretty much when I ask a horse owner what they are feeding, I get the answer: “It’s a 12 % feed”. Or “I feed low starch feed.  2 scoops a day because my horse is fat”.   When I show them the feed tag, people are usually really surprised to find out that they aren’t feeding the correct feed, or the correct amount.

Let’s start with basics. 

 The Feed Tag

Why read the feed tag?

Well, it’s pretty important.  Have you read the tag on your horse’s feed and do you really know what it says?

First what IS the feed tag?

It’s that little bit of paper attached to the bag.

It tells you:

  • Product name and weight
  • Purpose statement identifying the type of horse intended to be fed. Checking that your feed has been specifically formulated for your class of horse is critical. For example, you would not want to feed a product designed for a “mature horse at maintenance” to a “young growing horse.”
  • Guaranteed analysis of certain nutrients (required by law) – Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), Calcium, Phosphorus, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, and Vitamin A, and for feeds that include carbohydrate claims (i.e. low starch, etc.), the sugar and starch levels (when added together, the NSC or non-structural carbohydrates)
  • Ingredient list – this listing may include individual ingredients such as oats or corn, or terms like “grain products”. There is NO information regarding quality of ingredients in a feed. Ingredients are required to be listed in descending order of amount present.
  • Feeding directions – Horse feed manufacturers formulate feeds to be fed at a specific range of feeding rates; when a product is not fed according to the directions, the nutritional benefits of that feed won’t be met (as in the example above, if you are feeding 1 lb of a feed designed to be fed at 5 lb daily, you will not be meeting the nutritional values on the bag)

What a horse feed tag does not tell you:

  • Additional nutrients needed by the horse but that aren’t required to be guaranteed
  • Nutrient and ingredient quality. The percentage of protein on the bag (i.e.12%) tells you nothing about the quality of that protein. There are countless ways to blend various ingredients to make a feed with 12 % crude protein. A feed containing 12% crude protein made with high quality ingredients will supply more total protein, and more essential amino acids, to the horse than a feed made with lower quality ingredients. The same principle holds true for fat, fiber, vitamin and mineral sources. Not all ingredients are the same quality, stability or availability for the horse.
  • Just because something is included, doesn’t mean the level is high enough to be meaningful or useful. Even though an ingredient is listed, it could be that just a trace amount was included (yeast cultures for example).
  • Whether or not the guaranteed levels of nutrients are appropriate – when reading horse feed tag guarantees, many horse owners look for the tag with the “most” of everything listed. Sometimes more is not better. Sometimes more is just more and sometimes more is worse, possibly even toxic, as in Vitamin A.
  • Quality control – Feed manufacturers have widely differing quality control standards. It’s up to the horse owner to investigate each individual manufacturer’s approach to quality control (see horse feed blog post #1)

Dr. Elizabeth Callahan