What’s the Shelf Life of Horse Feed?

Textured Feed PouringFeed freshness is a concern for many horse owners.  We all want to feed our horses the best we can.  When it comes to freshness there are several factors involved, one of those being the expected shelf life of feed.  Horse owners and barn managers who understand these factors and practice good inventory rotation will be able to provide their horses fresh feed on a regular basis.

Shelf Life

First, what is shelf life?  Shelf life can be described as the length of time a feed is considered to have the nutritional quality and physical characteristics as intended when it was produced from the manufacturer.

In food terms, you may see ‘Best if used by’ or ‘Sell by’ followed by a date.  Human food is tightly managed and there are regulations that food processors, distributors and retailers need to follow to make sure that the food they put on their shelves is within date.

Most horse feeds do not have a ‘Use by’ date due to the process of manufacturing as well as the different storage conditions that feed is exposed to from when it is made to the time it is in your scoop.  Therefore, understanding what affects the shelf life can help you to provide your horse with fresh feed on a regular basis.

Feed Form

The form of feed you purchase has an impact on its shelf life. For example, a feed in the form of a pellet has undergone a process which involves cooking with heat and steam, followed by the use of centripetal force to push it through a die (think Play Dough machine) before it is cooled and dried.  This high temperature cook and cool helps to make the nutrients more available for digestion as well as improves the shelf life (cookie dough is only good for a few days, but baked cookies stored properly can last up to 2 weeks – well, not in my house!).

On the other hand, ‘textured’ or grain-based feed (where you see the oats, barley or cracked corn) which has had oil and/or molasses added has not undergone the same amount of ‘cooking’ as a pellet and therefore has a shorter shelf life.  Alone, the dry grains have a good shelf life, but when oil, molasses or other liquids have been added, the shelf life is shortened.

Generally speaking, a pelleted feed stored in ideal conditions won’t begin to lose nutritional quality until it is approximately 6 months old.  That’s a long time for a feed to still be good!  On the other hand, textured feed tends to lose nutritional quality around 90 days from date of manufacture.

Mold

One of the biggest risks regarding storage of feed is the potential growth of molds.  Molds are present in low levels all around us, but when exposed to certain conditions, molds can proliferate.  Molds love an environment that is warm and moist therefore, feed should be stored in a cool, dry place.

So what can you do to make sure your horse gets the best nutrition from the feed you buy? 

  • Feed makers and retailers set their own guidelines for shelf life of their products and they vary by the product.
  • Warm or humid temperatures will speed up the deterioration of quality as well, so pay especially close attention in the summer, and possibly even purchase less feed on a more frequent basis during those warmer months.
  • When you purchase feed from your retailer, ask how long they have had the bag of feed and under what conditions it has been stored.
  • When you get feed home, be sure to inspect it, looking for bugs or mold.
  • If you see indications of either, take the bag back to your retailer immediately.
  • Do not feed moldy or bug infested feed to your horses.

Any feed you store on farm should be kept in a cool, dry place, protected from infestation of pests.  Read here for tips on how best to store feed on your farm.

10 Replies to “What’s the Shelf Life of Horse Feed?”

  1. I opened a bag of feed that I had been buying from this feed store for years. I noticed the feed had whole soybeans in it that I had not got before . I called them and they told me they were seed beans that they had left over. I called my vet and my trainer. Both said absolutely not. That’s what I thought it would increase the possibility of colic and the possibility of the soy being treated with chemicals. The owner told me horse feed is made with whole soy all the time according to his vet .What is your thoughts on this I have not been back to this store since the owner shook his finger at me . I spent around 5 grand a year at that store and wont be back.

    1. Hello Mary, Soybean products should be properly heat treated before being used in animal feed as raw soybeans contain some anti-nutritional components. Whole roasted soybeans are used by some manufacturers as a source of both protein and fat. It is much more common in horse feeds to use soy hulls as a highly digestible fiber source, soy oil as a fat source or soybean meal as a protein (amino acid) source in horse feeds. We routinely test soy products to make certain that they have been properly heat treated. Hope this helps!
      Gina T.

  2. Last month we got a bag of feed that was a bit on the old side over 30 days old it was textured was not moldy nor did it smell bad, fed to our two and they got sick well called vet she did not think to big of a problem said get new feed so we tried all feed at that store was old had bags over a year old so went to local tsc and got safe choice senior all was well an still is but ever since bad feed my mare has had diareaha on an off for months vet has told an tried alot with no help any ideas on how to gelp? She is a15yr old appy we tried probios,elctrolytes,and different hay as well as kaopectin.

    1. Hello Regina, That’s a tough situation. Feed at slightly over 30 days would not normally be a problem at all. In a situation like this, it’s best to work closely with your vet to bring her back to normal. A heavier round of probiotics (and possibly prebiotics as well) may help, or possibly removing her from grain for a period to allow her gut to regulate, then slowly starting her back on grain as needed to maintain condition. We might also suggest trying Soothing Pink from our friends at Progressive Nutrition.
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

    1. Hi Sandy

      Thank you for your question! The date on Nutrena feed tags has traditionally been the Julian date code format. This is a legacy feed industry system and you can find how to read the date code here.

      We are transitioning many of our plants to a new date code system which is easier to read. The date may be stamped on the tape of the bag or it will be on the feed tag in lieu of the Julian code. We get lots of questions about date codes and are making changes so it’s easier!

      If you have additional questions, we’re here to help. You can respond here, contact us via our toll free number 1-800-367-4894 or send us a note through the website.

      Thanks!
      Megan C.

  3. We purchase one of your products that contains corn. We don’t like feeding corn to our horses but the product fits our needs on other ways. How can we be assured that the corn in your horse feeds is free from mycotoxins as it cannot be detected by looking at the pellets?

    1. Hello Mack, Thank you for contacting us. We test all incoming loads of corn for mycotoxins prior to them even being unloaded from trucks, and unacceptable loads are turned away from our facilities.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  4. I few times I have purchased Safe Choice and opened the bag to find the feed to appear white and clumped together. I have taken it back for a full refund or trade for another bag. What most likely occurred with to cause this? Did it get wet at the store or in transport from the processing plant to the retailer? I like the feed and my horses seem to like it and so far its still affordable. Thanks for the coupons!!

    1. Hi Ken,
      Thank you for your question regarding potential causes of SafeChoice being white or clumped when you open a bag. You are doing the right thing to take it back for a fresh bag as we, and your dealer, want your horses to have high quality product.

      The feed is produced in very well controlled feed plants. The product may be subject to a variety of storage conditions after it leaves the plant. If bag are exposed to moisture, some moisture might seep in thru the sewing locations on the ends of the bag. The bags are water resistant, but the ends are still slightly vulnerable to moisture seeping in. In areas of the country where there are extreme temperature ranges, there can also be some moisture migration within a bag, particularly if bags are stored where they are exposed to direct sun, which heats the bag, then cool air after the sun goes down.

      We appreciate your business and the care that you provide for your horses!

      Best wishes,
      Roy

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