Horse Feed: More Than Just Percentages

A hanging scale, such as this (dirty) one is helpful to hang a bucket from and weigh feed. Note that the scale has been tared for a bucket.

Horse owners frequently compare feeds based primarily on the information on the feed tag or supporting data from web sites.  While this is a quick comparison to make, it may not always be the best comparison.  Why, you ask? Well, what is most important to the horse is the total amount they actually consume.  To get this number, the percentage in the feed must be multiplied by the amount fed, making sure to account for different unit of measurements, such as supplements that are fed in ounces instead of pounds.

One example where this is important is with the protein percentage.  As ration balancer horse feed products are becoming more and more popular, some folks see that they typically have 30% protein or more, and worry that the level is way too high for a horse.  But with a ration balancer, a 1000 lb horse only gets 1-2 pounds of the product a day, compared to 4-6 lbs of a more traditional 12% feed.  So, if we do the math, here’s what we see:

  • 30% protein X 2 lbs of feed = 0.6 lbs of protein a day from a ration balancer
  • 12% protein X 5 lbs of feed = 0.6 lbs of protein in a day from a traditional feed

Another example where this calculation is useful is in the variety of fat supplements available on the market today. 

  • A powdered fat supplement has 99% fat, being fed at a rate of 2 oz a day, adds 0.124 lbs of fat to the daily diet.
  • A stabilized rice bran supplement that has 22% fat, fed at a rate of 2 lbs per day, adds 0.44 lbs of fat to the daily diet.

And of course, on top of this, we must ALWAYS remember to factor in the hay – not just the grain.  A horse will consume much more hay per day than grain, so the difference in a few percentage points is magnified when looking at the hay portion of the diet.  It may take a little math, but looking beyond the percentage of a particular nutrient is something your horse would thank you for if he could speak!

3 Replies to “Horse Feed: More Than Just Percentages”

  1. I’m confused. Isn’t the nutrition level on the tag based on if its fed at the recommended rate as per the tag? An example would be Empower Topline Balancer, Tag rate of 30% protein and the it shows the feed rate of .1-,2 per 100#’s of body weight. So if I fed 1.5 # per day to a horse that is 1,000#’s would the horse be getting a protein level of 30% ?

    1. Hi Chris,
      Thank you for your interesting question. The information on the feed tag is the amount of each nutrient that is contained in the feed expressed in the units that allow you to calculate how much will be provided based on how much is being fed. For example, if you feed Empower Topline Balance that is 30% protein (30% = 0.30), then if you feed 1.5 pound, you would be feeding 1.5 pound x 0.3 = 0.45 pounds of protein (or 24 ounces x 0.3 = 7.2 ounces of protein).

      To determine the total protein level in the horses diet as either % or total intake, you need to take into account everything the horse is eating. For example, if you have a 1000 pound horse that is consuming 20 pounds of hay that contains 10% protein and 1.5 pounds of Empower Topline Balance that contains 30% protein, the horse would be getting 20 x .1 or 2 pounds of protein from the hay and 0.45 pounds of protein from the 1.5 pounds of Empower Topline Balance for a total of 2.45 pounds of protein in the total of 21.5 pounds of hay + feed. 2.45/21.5 = .114 = 11.4%. The protein level in the horses total diet would therefore be 11.4%. We do similar calculations for all nutrients to determine how much of each nutrient is supplied and compare that to how much of each nutrient the horse requires. The good news is that there are ration evaluation programs that take care of the math!
      Best of luck!
      Roy J.

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