Grain By-Products in Horse Feeds

To many people, by-products have a negative connotation. Most think of by-products as “left overs”, “junk” or “fillers”.  This is simply not true. Some of the most nutrient rich ingredients we have for horse feeds are made of the product that remains after a grain has been processed for another specific purpose. These ingredients can include things like brewer’s grain, corn gluten feed, oat groats, etc. Some of the most common members of this category that we see used in our horse feeds or even fed as a sole ingredient today are:

Wheat Midds are obtained from the milling of wheat, wheat bran, wheat shorts, wheat germ, wheat flour, etc.  Midds are a good source of energy, protein and fiber for horses. Additionally, wheat midds help create a nice pellet that holds together well; midds can enhance the pellet quality and make a clean pellet with minimal dust and fines.  

Rice bran is a by-product of the rice milling process. Rice bran is found between the outer hull and inner grain of rice and is used as a plant-based fat source (typical rice bran products contain 20% fat or more). Rice bran can be fed in a powder form, extruded into a nugget, or added to commercial rations and pelleted to increase overall fat content of the feed. Rice bran works well as an ingredient but must be balanced to make up for a high phosphorous and low calcium content. It also must be stabilized or it will turn rancid very quickly due to the high oil content.

Wheat Bran is a by-product of the flour industry. It is rich in dietary fiber and essential fatty acids; bran mash has been historically fed to horses both as a treat and for a laxative effect that was thought to prevent colic.  We now know that too much wheat bran can cause problems such as enteroliths, and that laxative effect is actually a result of too much wheat bran irritating the gut lining of the horse. Similar to rice bran, wheat bran intakes must be managed to account for a very high phosphorous content.

These are just a few examples of some common grain by-products that are used in horse feed and can help create a healthy and nutritious diet. While not a “grain” by-product, even the ever-popular beet pulp is a by-product – it’s what’s left after sugar beets are processed! Before you dismiss a feed because it lists by-product as an ingredient, remember that these items, when balanced properly as a part of the overall formulation of the diet, can be an excellent source of many different nutrients.

Water-The Most Important Nutrient for Horses

Water is the most important nutrient that we provide for horses on a year around basis. Horses need 2 to 3 times more water than other feedstuffs. An 1100 lb horse on a dry forage diet at an average temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit will need a minimum of 6-7 gallons of water per day or 48-56 lbs of water, and many horses will drink more water than the minimum. We all appreciate that the water requirement may double at high temperatures, but may not realize that at -4 degrees Fahrenheit; the quantity required is about 10-12 gallons per day, or actually higher than at moderate temperature. The onset of cold weather can actually increase the requirement for water because there is no fresh grass and the air is very dry.

There is a misconception that domestic horses can easily eat enough snow to survive. While horses in the wild do adapt to lower water intakes, partially because food intake is also frequently reduced, horses can survive longer without food than they can without water. Reduced water intake can also impair digestion and potentially contribute to the incidence of impaction colic.

It also requires a great deal of energy to eat snow, melt the snow in the body and raise the fluid temperature to normal body temperature of 99.5- 100.5. Increasing the temperature of 10 gallons of water from 32 degrees to 100 degrees takes about 1372 Calories or about the amount of digestible energy in a pound of feed. Melting the snow to get to water will take a great deal more energy and the horses will not readily eat a pile of snow the size of 20 five gallon buckets. It takes about 10 inches of snow to have one inch of water.

Providing horses with fresh clean water at an appropriate temperature all year around is a great management tool to reduce the risk of colic, maintain healthy digestion, maintain body condition and even save a bit of money on feed cost!