Ing. Darina Havlíčková

Feed suitable for horses / part I. – Grains

Grains are feed that comes from grains, which are specially bred grasses, usually from the Poaceae Family. Their seeds, or grains, are used as human food (wheat, rye, corn, oats, rice, etc.) or as animal feed (barley, oats, corn, wheat, triticale, etc.) However, only some types of grain as suitable as feed for horses and we will present these below.

The nutritional value of individual types of grains differs slightly.  What grains do have in common is their high starch (polysaccharide) content, which makes them a very concentrated source of energy for performance in horses. They have a relatively low protein and fat content (only oats have a higher fat content of around 5%). The caryopsis of some grains contain more fibre when unhulled (oats around 10%), but otherwise grains usually have a low fibre content. The minerals grains contain are usually a larger amount of phosphorus and magnesium. Seventy-five per cent of the phosphorus in grains is phytin phosphorus, which is more easily digested by horses than other farm animals (poultry, pigs, etc.) In practice, this means that we have to ensure a sufficient supply of calcium and other cations in the feed if feeding rations containing more grains than bran. The trace elements that grains contain most of are group B vitamins and also a significant amount of vitamin E in sprouted grain (spent grain).

The first choice and grain number one for European horse breeds (so-called western type) is oats. Despite their undeserved bad reputation with leisure riders, oats are the ideal grain for horses. Oats contain a large amount of fibre, which means they force the horse to chew their feed properly. When feeding to adult horses who have a full set of teeth, there is no need to grind them and they can be fed whole. As the horse chews the oats thoroughly, this stimulates the saliva glands to increase saliva production. If any of you feed whole or crushed oats, you may observe that a lot of horses produce saliva or even foam as they chew this feed. Production of saliva, which then coats the food before its subsequent transportation through the digestive system, is crucial for preventing stomach ulcers in horses. The saliva also contains bicarbonate - or soda, which neutralises excess gastric acid in the horses stomach. Another benefit of this grain is its overall higher fat content, which is an excellent source of energy, and oats are also a source of easily broken down starches or saccharides. On the contrary to other grains (e.g. barley or corn), the starch from oats is very rapidly broken down and energy in the form of glucose is quickly transported through the intestinal wall and into the blood. This is the probable reason why oats are a so-called “hot” food and produce impulsive energy in horses (they quickly raise blood sugar levels). Horses of the eastern type in particular (i.e. Arabians, English thoroughbreds and some breeds bred from them), respond very sensitively to being fed with oats. If horses from these breeds are active in sports (racing) there is no problem feeding oats. Problems may sometimes occur when these keen and lively horses are only lightly active or active as leisure horses. They then become more excitable and difficult to control. In these cases, you simply need to eliminate oats from their feed ration or feed them only pellets or muesli not containing oats (Energys® RELAXPONYSTANDARDEXTRACOLDMIX, FIBER).

The other choice when choosing grains for your horse is usually barley. Entire generations of horses of the eastern type (Arabians, Berbers, etc.) have been raised on barley and so these breeds usually tolerate barley very well. Barley has more energy than oats, but contains less fibre and fat.

The starches in barley are harder to digest than those in oats and the caryopsis is rougher with fine grooves. This is why barely should not be fed to horses whole, but should be ground into a coarse meal at the very least (Energys® Barley meal). Any type of heat processing (steaming, flaking, extrusion, boiling) , during which the complex and strong links between the glucose molecules in barley starch are broken down and become more easily digestible, is ideal. (Energys® COLDMIX, HERBICFIBERDYNAMIX). The aroma of boiled barley is a balm to the olfactory cells and also means that horses receiving this feed will be in good condition. On the contrary to oats, barley is not a good feed in a monodiet (or as the only feed). It must be combined with other feedstuffs or grains, because it can cause constipation and also does not have a good effect on the hooves and skin in larger quantities.

The third on the list of usable feedstuffs for horses is corn. Corn, a crop that comes from Mexico and Central America, is now grown extensively throughout the world. But just like barley, we can say that imported American horse breeds (chiefly the Quarter horse, Paint horse or appaloosa and their crosses) are best adapted to being fed corn. Corn has exactly the same character as these excellent, hardworking and calm horses. It provides energy that is released slowly and over a long period for a higher workload, it promotes calmness in sports horses, balance and good condition. Corn contains a very high amount of starch and provides a little more energy than even barley, but has a low protein and fibre content. The starches in corn are harder to digest,so they do not “overheat” the horse like oats. Its disadvantage is that the starches in corn are harder to digest in the horses small intestine. This is why the amount of corn must be regulated to a maximum of 0.35 kg of corn / 100 kg of live weight / feed ration (i.e. a horse weighing 500 kg may be fed a maximum of 1.75 kg of corn per individual ration). Of our range of feeds, Energys® EXTRA or COLDMIX muesli provide a sufficient intake of a safe amount of corn. The ideal form of corn grain, which retains all its beneficial qualities, is the corn flake (Energys® CORNFLAKES) or corn meal (Energys® CORNMEAL).

Wheat is only a substitute or marginal grain for feeding horses. Feed wheat is excellent and has very good nutritional values, but a lower yield, which is why most wheat sown today is food quality. Food wheat has a very high gluten content, which is desirable for baked foods (the gluten holds the dough together). But it is not very suitable for horses, because it may form sticky masses on the gut or stomach wall in larger amounts, which may lead to inflammation and to colic in extreme cases. We only add a minimum amount of wheat to horse feeds, i.e. a maximum of up to 10%. Wheat bran is a much more suitable feed from wheat. Bran is the hull of the wheat grain, which is left when the flour is milled (this means that bran is naturally gluten-free). Horses enjoy bran very much. It has a neutral flavour, is slightly laxative and has a high phosphorus content in a form that is very easily digested by horses.

Rye and triticale (a rye/wheat hybrid) are not appropriate feeds for horses. Due to their bitter flavour, horses don’t like them very much and they also have an inappropriately high gluten content. These grains can be fed in emergencies, but only after being thoroughly soaked and only in limited amounts.

Millet and rice are not included very often in the feed rations of European horses.

The amount of grains and their by-products in most feeds ranges from 30 - 70%. This means that their nutritional and qualitative values have a major impact on the quality of the horse feed. And is why we make sure that grains for ENERGYS feeds undergo strict quality control on receipt. The receipt of grains is CCP (critical control point) No. 1 in the HACCP system (hazard analysis and critical control points). We check the mycotoxin (DON, zearalenone and also sensoric fusaria) content in each delivery. Before being unloaded, each delivery of grains arriving at our manufacturing plants is also inspected by the grain laboratory at our plant, which approves or stops its receipt to the grain silo. In the laboratory, the laboratory workers assess the following parameters of the collected samples according to strict standards: contaminants, admixtures, moisture, protein, possibly the presence of pests or fusaria. If any of the delivery parameters is unsatisfactory, the delivery is returned to the supplier. Grains are stored in the silo under constant quality control, until they are transferred and processed at the feed compound factory. The grain silo, which stores around 20,000 tons, is an independent facility at our plant in Běstovice, and exclusively assures the quality and correct storage of the purchased grains. We believe that only a few feed manufacturers can assure that their input ingredients are of such high quality. Assurance of grain quality is just one of the many benefits of horse feed from the ENERGYS range manufactured by the De Heus a.s. Company in Běstovice in East Bohemia.

Photo illustrational, source