Feeding Bran Mashes to Horses

Feeding bran mashes to horses is a common tradition dating back a long time, and is often thought to be a help in preventing colic through a laxative effect. Bran is believed to be a laxative in people, but to get that effect in horses, you would actually have to feed it in quantities bigger than your horse could eat.  Some horses do produce softer stools the day after eating bran, but this probably reflects bran’s tendency to irritate the lining of equine intestines.  If fed daily over a long period of time, bran may actually contribute to the formation of enteroliths. 

The bigger danger in feeding bran to horses is the calcium:phosphorus ratio of bran.  Calcium and phosphorus work together to build sound bones and assist muscle function.  To do so, they must be absorbed in appropriate proportions (preferably 1.2 or more parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus).  If, over a long period of time, phosphorus exceeds calcium in the diet, the horse’s body will pull extra calcium from the horses bones to meet it’s needs, and eventually weaken the skeleton.

Wheat bran and rice bran contain approximately 10 times more phosphorus than calcium.  Therefore, an occasional bran mash won’t harm the horse, and he will likely relish the treat.  However, daily bran regimens in large quantity should be avoided, unless calcium is supplemented in sufficient quantities elsewhere in the diet.

10 thoughts on “Feeding Bran Mashes to Horses

  1. I have to disagree on the bran mash. I have fed a bran mash to all my horses for 30 years. I have never had a problem with it. My horses rarely ever have colic. I never had ones hocks injected, I’ve just never had any problems with a weak the skeleton.

    • Hey Leisa, Thanks for the comment. That’s great that it has been working for you, and I bet your horses love it! I do want to clarify, we did say that problems may arise “if” the phosphorus exceeds the calcium in the “total” diet. So, if you just fed bran mash and grass hay, you would be more likely to run in to problems than if you feed alfalfa and the bran mashes, because alfalfa contains significantly more calcium than phosphorus, where grass hay is about even with the two nutrients. So, alfalfa would work well towards balancing out the bran mash nutrient imbalance. Does that make sense? Thanks, and have a great day! ~ Gina T.

  2. Pingback: Warm Mashes for Senior Horses | The Feed Room

  3. I feed a bran mash every night to my horses. The mash includes a serving of Senior Pelleted feed. The Arab gets 3-4 flakes of alfalfa daily and there is also bermuda hay he can eat anytime throughout the day. My 3 minis also get a bran mash nightly that includes a serving of their mini horse food. They mostly get fed bermuda hay with a little alfalfa added on top to keep them happy. (I have been told too much alfalfa for them will cause founder). I have been feeding the nightly bran mash mixture to my arab for almost three years now and the minis for one year, and thought it was fine. However, recently I have been reading how bad it might be because of a possible inbalance in the ratio of calcium and phosphorus. The horses all love it and look forward to it with relish every night. I am concerned that I may be doing something harmful to them and would like to know just how to measure bran in relation to alfalfa for a safe percentage….Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Ann, Thanks for the question. The short answer is, you really need to have your hay tested to know for sure if you are OK or not. Hay can be so variable, even within one type such as alfalfa, that it’s impossible to safely say for sure here. To be on the safe side if testing isn’t an option, you can make a mash simply from the Senior feed and no bran, and they would still get the “treat” without the worry of what the bran may be doing.

      Now, for the long answer: Concentrations of calcium and phosphorus and their ratio to each other have major effects on health of horses. As you know, it is critical that calcium never be lower than phosphorus. Proper utilization of calcium and phosphorus in the body is related to three main prerequisites: 1) adequate calcium and phosphorus intake, 2) proper ratio between calcium and phosphorus, 3) sufficient vitamin D to assist in absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus. Many times it is forgotten that vitamin D is needed for proper absorption, transportation, and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus and is critical for growth. The most accurate way to ensure correct calcium to phosphorus ratios when mixing your own formula would be to have your hay and bran tested to get the calcium and phosphorus levels.

      Although alfalfa is much higher in calcium compared to phosphorus, early bloom alfalfa would have a greater spread then mid-bloom to late bloom. Also if you live in a region such as Wyoming, then your grass hay could have a 3:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus which is extremely high compared to other parts of the U.S. Once you know the level of calcium and phosphorus for feed/hay, then you would take the % calcium and phosphorus of each and multiply by the amount of lbs you are feeding and then multiply by 454 grams, to get the grams of calcium and phosphorus for each. Then you add up calcium and phosphorus levels for everything you are feeding. A maintenance type horse that weighs 1100 lbs requires at least 20 grams of calcium a day and 14 grams of phosphorus. Working horses, growing horses, and broodmares require more and minis less.

      Feeding a Nutrena premium horse feed is great because the guess work is already taken out for you. At Nutrena, ingredients are tested for nutrient levels and then those levels are used in formulation to ensure every bag of Nutrena feed delivers consistent nutrients. Horses have nutrient requirements not ingredient requirements. Nutrena feeds are balanced in vitamins and minerals and contain organic mineral complexes. There are many minerals involved in similar physiological functions of the horse and they need to be in correct proportion to one another. Minerals can be antagonist of each other so for instance too much calcium in the diet can interfere with Zinc. Zinc is important for many physiological functions of the horse like reproduction so we can’t have too much calcium in the diet preventing zinc from being absorbed. This is why Nutrena premium feeds contain organic mineral complexes. A mineral complex is where we take a mineral and attach it to an amino acid so another mineral can’t interfere with it. Zinc for example is attached to the amino acid methionine so calcium can no longer interfere with zinc and the horse can utilize zinc properly. Organic minerals is a benefit that you will not get by feeding a bran mash.

      Hope that helps! Please do let us know if you have more questions.
      Thanks! Gina T.

  4. I have a mare that is 21 and she had a baby three months ago. I noticed her weight dropping so I put her on mare and foal feed instead of just horse feed to give a boost with nursing. Problem I’m having is her weight is still dropping the vet is coming out but until he gets here I’m worried about her weight loss. Should I switch to Senior feed? The baby eats with her and I don’t want the baby to get something out of that feed that maybe she should not have. Never had this problem before and would really love some input. Thank You

    • Hello Margie,

      Thanks for the question. Typically in these situations, we want to check the amounts being fed. First, ensure she has all the hay/pasture she can eat. She needs to be getting at least 2.0% of her bodyweight in hay/pasture per day, so that’s 20 lbs of hay per day!

      Then for the grain, at this particular stage of her lactation she is needing a LOT of calories to keep her condition – all her energy is going to milk production, and then what’s left of her energy goes to her own body condition. At this stage of her lactaction, if she is a 1,000 lb horse, she should be getting 10 to 15 lbs per day of grain to get all the calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals she needs to keep that foal healthy and get her own condition back. The SafeChoice Mare & Foal is going to weigh around 1.4 lbs per quart, so that is 7 to 11 quarts of feed per day! Since she’s below condition, get her to that higher end of that rate to get her gaining back, and then once she gets to condition, you can start to back down the feeding amount.

      The SafeChoice Mare & Foal is higher in calories than the SafeChoice Senior, so a switch to Senior won’t do much good for her condition.

      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  5. My 22 gelding has been on Equine Senior for over 1 year. I add a very small amount of cracked corn to his ration. He is in good weight with grass hay and pasture turn out all day.
    I’m concerned because he seems to be having difficult swallowing either the Purina or the Purina and cracked corn mixture. I have never wet down this fed but I think I may need to. Vet just checked his teeth 1 month ago and floated them 1 year ago.
    Please send suggestions as I’m worried about him

    • Hi Marie,
      Thank you for your question about your 22 year old gelding. He may be getting to a point in his life where it might be useful to soak his feed with some warm water to make a mash and see if that makes it easier for him to swallow. You might also want to consider feeding him in a shallow trough with the feed spread out to make certain that he does not get too big a mouthful at one time. Small bites might be easier for him to swallow. Let us know how this works out for you. Make certain that he has access to salt free choice and fresh clean water.
      Best of luck,
      Roy J.

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