Starch Levels in Feed

Starch plays a significant role in a horse’s overall diet.  After (hopefully) warming you up to the idea of how useful this nutrient can be, I’d like to now dig in to how you can compare and contrast the varying levels of starch (and sugar*)  in feeds and hopefully this information will  help you compare and contrast to choose the best option for your horse.

Most horses can tolerate a moderate level of starch each day. If you have a horse that has been diagnosed with a form of equine metabolic disease, you will need to limit your horse to a ‘low’ controlled starch and sugar diet….which includes forage (hay and pasture).  Fructans, the sugars in forages, are too often overlooked when assessing the total diet of an EMS horse.

The Importance of Evaluating Starch Levels in Your Horse’s Diet

Even if your horse has not been diagnosed with EMS, it is still important to understand the starch level in his diet and take it into consideration for your overall program. Think you know how to compare starch levels from one feed to another?  You might be surprised to find out that a bit of math is required. Simply comparing the percentage of starch on feed tags doesn’t quite tell the whole story.  To get to a true comparison, it is important to factor in the recommended feeding rate, which is, after all, what the horse experiences.

Math Matters: How to Compare Starch Levels in Horse Feeds

Let’s compare two feeds that are marketed as ‘low starch’; one has a starch maximum guarantee of 7% while the other has a maximum of 11%.  Pretty easy to tell which one is the lowest, right?

scales representing Starch Levels in Feed
Look beyond the percentage to find what’s really in the feed

Not quite.  For our example,  let’s say we have a 1,000 pound horse at maintenance level activity.  Feed A, with 7% starch is recommended to be fed at a rate of 6 pounds per day, meanwhile, Feed B has a starch maximum of 11% and is recommended to be fed at a rate of 2.5 pounds per day.

Here is the formula to use:  Starch % * pounds fed/day *454 (converts to grams) = grams of starch fed/day

Applied to our example scenario, here’s how the math works out:

Feed A:  7% starch x 6 pounds fed x 454 = 190.68 grams of starch per day.

Feed B: 11% x 2.5 pounds of feed x 454 = 124.85 grams of starch per day.

Revealing Surprising Results: Evaluating Starch Grams in Different Feeds

Wow – a big surprise!  Not only is the 11% starch feed actually lower in grams of starch per day than the 7% product, the difference is actually rather significant given how different the percentages were.   It is important to keep in mind that it all comes down to what your horse actually ingests, so understanding the recommended feeding rate in pounds and then weighing your feed to hit that mark is what will make the difference.

Considerations for Starch Tolerance in Horses: From EMS to Performance Horses

It’s also important to understand that horses who do not experience a form of EMS have a higher tolerance for starches and sugar in their diet…and in fact, the performance horse will actually need those nutrients to support their activity levels.  It all comes to down to understanding what’s in your feed and how much you’re giving them.

Ready to ensure your horse is getting the optimum nutrition at feeding time, every time? Find the perfect feed formulated specifically for horse’s needs with our Feed Selector Tool.

Feed Selector tool

*Though this blog article addresses ‘starch’ the same principles apply to determining the amount of other nutrients in a feed. 

4 Replies to “Starch Levels in Feed”

  1. I had my mare with PSSM 1 disorder on your safe choice normal.she did not eat it well. I had to change her to Triple Crown low starch. Do ypu have a feed comperable to Triple crown?

    1. Hello Renie, Thanks for the question! The Triple Crown Low Starch is a little unusual because it is a complete feed – meaning you don’t need to feed hay/pasture along with it. So, it puts it “in between” two of our products:
      1. If you need that complete feed option because she isn’t eating hay/pasture, then our closest would be SafeChoice Senior. It is a fairly similar nutrient profile across the typical nutrients, but is slightly higher in total NSC than the Triple Crown product. The TC product is 13.5% NSC, where the SafeChoice Senior is 20% NSC. That said, the SafeChoice Senior is higher in calories, so you may not need to feed quite as much, which would level the total NSC intake a bit.

      2. If you don’t actually need that complete feed option, and your mare is eating hay/pasture in sufficient quantities, then the closest would be SafeChoice Special Care. Again, similar in the typical nutrient levels, however closer in the total NSC, at 15% NSC. Again, it is higher in fat than the TC product, so your total NSC intake might be pretty even if you feed less of the SC Special Care than of the TC product.

      We hope this is helpful to you, if you have further questions please let us know! Thanks ~ Gina T.

    2. I have a horse with cushions and she is fixing to start prascend. She is over weight and I need advice on what kind of pellets to start feeding her that is low starches and how much to feed her a day

      1. Hello Connie, For an overweight horse with Cushing’s, we’d recommend feeding a low starch/sugar hay (ask your hay dealer for an analysis), and then using a ration balancer like our Empower Topline Balance to provide the protein, vitamins, and minerals she needs for overall health, all in a very small daily feeding amount – just 1 lb of the product for a 1,000lb horse per day – and a very low starch and sugar intake.

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