Is the Quality of My Horses Grain Important?

Whether you utilize your horses for showing, performance, farm work, breeding, or just simply a pet, nutrition is vital to their health. Many horse owners are relatively well versed in the basic necessities of equine nutrition, taught to them by equine professionals throughout their careers. Some equine enthusiasts care so much about their horses nutrition that they go on to obtain degrees and pursue careers on the topic. One could argue that many horse owners care more about their equine partners nutrition than their own. 

Should my horse eat forage or grain?

While many horses are able to thrive on a forage only diet, many others cannot. This is most seen in performance horses with higher work loads, or elderly horses with higher nutritional needs. When these horses require more from their diet, grain rations are the first stop. But how many of us truly understand the nutritional needs for our specific horses? Is your go to just the general feed your barn uses? Do you walk the aisles at your local feed store looking for the perfect match based upon the branding on the bag? Many may request assistance from a feed representative or their vet. But how many of us truly know how to decipher a feed tag analysis? 

What are the general nutritional needs of horses?

Keep in mind, horses needs vary, from metabolic conditions, location, forage sources, work load, etc. Below is a chart of necessary daily energy and protein needs for varying types of horses and workload.

Grain Quality
Nash, David. (1999) "Drought Feeding and Management for Horses" RIRDC publication No 99/98, Australia.

After understanding the energy and protein requirements for your horse, it is important to dive further into what grain sources will provide these nutritional requirements best. Below is a chart of the average feed type ingredients and the average energy and protein percentages they provide your horse.  

Grain Quality
Nash, David. (1999) "Drought Feeding and Management for Horses" RIRDC publication No 99/98, Australia.

Now we know the basic requirements for an array of different equines and what grain sources can provide those nutrients. This allows us to have a better understanding of where we need to go moving forward with planning out a nutritional plan for our horses. It is important to note that an analysis of your horses forage is highly recommended. The knowledge from the analysis will help shape the nutritional deficit which will require replacement via grain ration. A well rounded feed source should meet all nutritional needs without requiring outside supplementation. 

What is the best diet for my horse?

For example, a retired horse with a metabolic condition, such as Cushing’s disease, would require a diet with low sugar content. This would generally mean avoiding any grains with molasses or forages with alfalfa.

Meanwhile, a horse in a high performance, or show, regimen would require a completely different food source. This horse would benefit from a higher percentage protein diet (especially if the forage provided is low in protein). 

Does my horse need Omega-6 Fatty Acids?       

There is one essential nutrient which is not always adequately provided via forage and grain ration. This essential nutrient compiles the omega fatty acids. The research to discover the required ratio of omega fatty acids for horses diet are still in the works. What we do know is that horses do not produce omega fatty acids on their own. To acquire these essential nutrients, it must be through the horses diet. Even further, the majority of omega fatty acids found in grain rations are omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for many aspects of equine health. However, omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory.

How much Omega-3 Fatty Acids does my horse need?

Meanwhile, omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in grasses. Omega-3 fatty acids tend to promote an anti-inflammatory response in the body. It is important to choose your omega oil wisely. Many omega oils have a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, such as, corn oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. It is important to avoid these oils when adding an omega oil to your horses diet. Excel Supplement’s Camelina oil provides the most balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. At a ratio of 2:1, this formula aims to provide your horse with the best ratio of both essential omega fatty acids.

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