Fiber in Horse Feeds

In our previous post, we learned what fiber is and how a horse digests it,and we also learned that a horse consuming 1-1.5% of it’s bodyweight in quality roughage will satisfy its daily fiber requirements. In today’s blog we will review everything you need to know about fiber in horse feed.

horse feed being dumped in to bucket representing fiber in horse feedConsidering the Impact of Fiber In Horse Feed on Digestion

When it comes to any grain sources that may be added to your horse’s diet, fiber plays a much smaller role since the amount of fiber that is added by grains is relatively little, but the effect and digestive process is similar.

Managing Grain Portion and Avoiding Digestive Issues

When feeding the grain portion of the diet, ensure that your horse is not receiving high quantities of grain meals all at once – typically no more than 5-6 pounds of grain per meal at most. Because grains tend to be higher in starch than roughage, feeding too much at once can overwhelm the small size and quick rate of passage of food through the stomach and small intestine, and allow starches to pass undigested to the hindgut. Digestion of starches in the hindgut releases lactic acids that are toxic to the fiber-digesting microorganisms, which can result in a gas colic episode or laminitis.

Understanding Energy Content in Equine Rations

Generally speaking, when you look at a the tag from a basic equine ration, the higher the crude fiber level listed, the lower the energy content of the feed.  Of course, there are other factors that must be looked at, such as the fat level, and also possibly the sources of fiber.

Beet Pulp and Other Options for Increased Fiber in Horse Feed

Beet pulp, for example, is often referred to as a “super-fiber” due to the high level of fiber it provides while also providing roughly the same energy level as oats.  While soy hulls and dehydrated alfalfa are common ingredients used to increase fiber levels, a performance horse ration with a higher fiber level may make use of beet pulp to achieve both increased energy and increased fiber levels.

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.

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14 Replies to “Fiber in Horse Feeds”

  1. I would like to know what you think about Buckeye feeds. Personally I love them, however i am not a equine nutritionist so I would like a second opinion. If you go to you can view their product. I use Trifecta for my 4 yr old stud who I barrel race. Trifecta is a 12-12-12. Is there any supplement you might suggest or does this feed have it all. I bought some red cell to give him a little boost, but then read on it that i should not supplement my horse with this if my feed has a good source of selenium in it. I know about selenium being toxic if feed to much. Right now I feed 3/4 scoop of trifecta, 1 Alfalfa& 1 Costal flake, does this sound good?

    Thank You!

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Thanks for checking in with us! Buckeye is a fine nutritional company, although of course we’d love to have you feeding our Nutrena products – if you like Buckeye’s Trifecta, you’ll love our XTN Extreme Nutrition Horse Feed!

      That said though, we don’t ever recommend supplementing with any sort of vitamin or mineral supplement when you are using a high-end commercially prepared feed, whether it’s from us here at Nutrena, or from another company such as Buckeye. The reason is, we’ve put a lot of work and research and testing in to getting our products designed to deliver optimum nutrition in every bite. And, if you’ve read some of the other posts here on The Feed Room, you know that the nutrients all work together in a balance – adding too much of one nutrient can bind up another, making the body unable to utilize it.

      So, if you were using a low-end product or feeding plain oats or something similar, then supplements can be a good idea. But in your situation, we’d recommend sticking to the feed and the hay. Hope that helps, please do let us know if you have more questions!
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  2. I have a 6 year old Thoroughbred gelding. I’ve only had him for a few months but the lady who had him before me had him for two years. He was raced previous to her owning him. He is a typical skinnier Thoroughbred, but his energy is not through the roof (thank goodness). I am from Canada so I don’t know if you guys have the same types of grain in the US.

    He is currently on 1 (3 quarts) scoop of Purina Trimax, 1 (3 quarts) scoop of Step Right; Step 8, beet pulp (2 cups dry), 1 cup of milled rice bran, 1 cup of canola or corn oil, and 2 pumps of Gastra FX (preventative ulcer supplement). He gets fed all of this once a day. He is hacked 4 or 5 days a week, and jumped once a week.

    He has access to free choice salt, water, and a round bale of timothy/grass/alfalfa hay. His water intake is good, not sure about the salt.

    I’ve been thinking about putting him on a multi-vitamin, mineral, or probiotic supplement. Do you have any suggestions?

    If you need any info on the grain let me know.

    1. Hi Kristen, Thanks for checking in with us! You have quite the program going right now, and I think we can simplify his diet (and your life) quite a bit. First of all, though, we would recommend splitting his diet in to two meals a day, if possible. We understand of course if a boarding situation or something similar prohibits, but it would be good for his gut, and your ulcer prevention efforts, if you can.

      We did some research and looked at the products you mentioned, and you are doubling up on a lot of things. The Trimax already contains beet pulp and vegetable oil, and is plenty high in fat. We would recommend transitioning away from the plain beet pulp, milled rice bran, and canola oil. As you remove those from the diet, increase the amount of TriMax. This will provide plenty of calories, but more importantly, a balanced diet that will not require the addition of vitamin or mineral supplements. Feeding a plain ingredient is generally not a good idea, as they are not properly balanced for horses requirements, and throw the total diet off track.

      The Step Right can be continued, if desired, but may or may not be needed if you transition to a plain diet of Trimax that is being fed at the full amount instructed on the tag. Continue with the Gastra FX if he needs it (your vet will know best), and a probiotic may be added if desired. Trimax does contain yeast, which is a prebiotic. (Probiotics are live, good bugs that populate the gut, prebiotics provide nutrition to help support a healthy population of the good bugs.)

      Keep up with the salt, water, and hay – if he has free choice salt, he is likely consuming all he needs. So, we hope that all helps, and please do let us know if you have more questions!
      Thanks, Gina T.

  3. Hi Gina,

    I feed the Safe Choice feed. LOVE it, switched from Strategy. I have a 12 year old gelding who had EPM and occasionally cribs. With the shortage in hay this year do you recommend anything to help with the lack of hay? I normally give him one five gallon bucket of alfalfa cubes in warm water with 2 cups food grade soy beal oil twice a day in winter, Planning 1 scoop Safe Coice twice a day and a flake of hay 3 x a day. He has all the time access to a tree acre pasture which he has chewed down pretty good. What do you suggest?

    1. Hi Larra, Thanks for checking in with us, and glad to hear your horse is doing well on SafeChoice!

      You can supplement the lack of hay with use of a complete feed that contains additional fiber, such as Triumph Complete or SafeChoice Senior, to help get through this shortage. It’s still best to try to keep at least some long-stem roughage in front of your horse, for overall digestive health, as well as to prevent boredom (especially since you mention he is a cribber). Try providing his hay in a tightly-woven hay net or one with a single small opening – he can eat the same amount, but it will take longer and keep him occupied, as well as help reduce wasting hay on the ground.

      Hope this helps, let us know if you have more questions. Thanks! Gina T.

  4. Hi,

    I have had a mare since her birth. 8 yrs old. She has always been gassy. Noticibly so, and I believe at times she is unconformtable from it. I have had her on an assortment of foods since her birth. All transitions have been over a week or so, nothing too sudden. As she has grown older she doesn’t need much food now. Currently giving 1 cup of Horseman’s Edge 10:6 pellet in the evenings. I’m confused what is causing the gas. Her feeding history has been diverse, yet I have not been able to rule anything out. In the beginning it was a scoop 2x a day of strategy, then safechoice, then triple crown complete, then counry acres, and now horseman’s edge. They all vary in protein, fat, fiber, etc… She now has access to free choice hay, but doesn’t have hay belly, nor has she become less or more gassy since that change. I personally think she is lacking in energy. Others say she is just lazy (I agree with that too, but again I think it’s b/c she’s not feeling well. I am considering a supplement only. But then I wonder how much fat it should contain, etc… Also considering probiotics. Please advise on anything that may be causing this excessive gas.


    1. Hello Valerie,
      Thanks for reaching out to us. It is hard to say what is causing her gas issues, it sounds like you’ve tried varying her diet plenty. A good course of probiotics, and possible some prebiotics, may very well be a good place to start to help resolve this.
      As for her overall diet, if you are feeding just a cup of Horseman’s Edge (which is designed to be fed more in the 3-5 pounds per day range), then you aren’t doing her much good with that product. You might look at feeding her a ration balancer, such as our Empower Balance product – these products are specifically designed to be fed in very low amounts per day. They provide the nutrients a horse needs, without the additional calories that a traditional feed provides.
      Hope that helps! ~ Gina T.

  5. I have a 26 yr. old Reg.Quarterhorse mare. Has been an easy feeder up to two years ago. Began having diarreah. Began feeding a Senior feed-Southern State. Now feeding Nutrena Senior-Life. She won’t eat anything but the best,2nd cutting, leafy hay which is hard to get and then she leaves some of that. Have tried supplimenting with Blue Hay extender, Standlee Timothy cubes and Standlee Timothy and Alfalfa cubes. Must soak that and then she doesn’t clean it up. She has fescue winter pasture which is adequate but not lush right now. She has not diarrea now and is in good flesh but the cubes are hard to use and she doesn’t like them. What do you reccomend to us?

    1. Hello Patricia, Thanks for checking in with us. There are a couple things you might check in to – first, have her teeth checked by your veterinarian or equine dentist – she may have something going on in her mouth that is keeping her from wanting to eat. If that is clear, you might get your vet’s opinion on if she may have ulcers -that is another problem that may cause a lack of desire to eat.
      For the diarhea, if she is otherwise healthy, then you might try a round of probiotics to help re-establish her gut microbial population.
      Hope this helps – let us know if you have more questions!
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  6. I have a 28yr old quarter horse, shes currently on purina equine senior and chopped alfalfa/Timothy hay (she tries to eat reg hay but just quidds it and spits it back out) and cleand it up good but she has diarrhea. She has hardly no teeth but ive noticed that if i soak her food the diarrhea is 10x worse. I’ve had a fecal done, shes been wormed i can tell by her poop that everything is digested good. I would love to get the diarrhea under control. What would you recommend?

    1. Hi Lorena,
      Great question. Diarrhea in an older horse can be a challenge as there are a multitude of reasons for which they are displaying it. While most research regarding diarrhea focuses on infections causes, there could also be structural (deteriorated lining of intestines) or dietary factors that you should address with your veterinarian. Some potential dietary causes could include:

      • Changes in dietary quality and quantity
      o For example, in the fall if there are warm sunny days followed by cool nights these often lead to excess frucan content in pasture grasses which could lead to loose stools. Essentially excess starch from feed or excess fructan from pasture grasses reaching the hindgut causes a reduction in pH and thus disruption of the intestinal mucosal barrier. The largest swings in fructan content of pasture grasses are typically seen in fall and spring.
      o For example, your current hay supply runs out and you rapidly change over to the next batch or cutting that you have on hand or delivered. Even if the same “hay type” the quality can be different and upset the microbial population in the hindgut
      • Overload of minerals or other irritant to the gut
      o For example, if a supplement, feed or mineral is being fed at rates outside of manufacturer recommendations, this may cause the GI tract to flush the excess to rid the body.

      Here are some dietary suggestions to discuss with your veterinarian when facing diarrhea once infectious causes are ruled out:

      Trickle feed a low NSC feed containing soy hulls, beet pulp and other highly digestible fibers. Trickle feeding means providing several small meals rather than 2 large meals per day.
      Free choice access to good quality hay (chop if possible as your horse’s dentition requires)
      Add or choose a feed that contains viable probiotics as well as prebiotics, ideally that have been shown in research to improve digestion
      Minimize excess NSC and and excess vegetable oil being fed
      Remove fresh pasture grasses

      For this particular horse, I would have some more questions prior to a recommendation. How long has the diarrhea been going on and can you describe it (are there normal fecal balls followed by liquid or all liquid feces?) as well as if there is any acid aroma with it. In addition to how many pounds of the chopped timothy/alfalfa has she been eating, what kind of other hay or pasture has the horse had access to? How many pounds of the senior feed has she been fed per day? Any other supplements as well as amounts. What is the horse’s estimated weight? What is this horse’s current body condition score? Topline condition? Has the horse had access to free choice plain salt? Any minerals? Once I have this information I’m happy to provide a specific recommendation.

      Best of luck!

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