What’s in your horses feed?
LIZZIE DRURY MSc RNutr
The best way to determine what is in your horse’s feed is to learn how to interpret a feed bag label. Understanding what you are feeding your horse is very important so that you can be sure that you are doing the best for your horse.
European law governs what can and must be written on the feed bags and declaration labels for horse feed on the market. There is certain information that every bag of feed must display, which is known as the statutory statement, any other information that the manufacturer wants to put on the bag has to be outside of the statutory statement but this additional information is also closely controlled.
The statutory statement on the label will provide us with the following information:
- Vitamins A, D and E: The active substance level and the date until which the vitamins will stay active. Also whether they are added or are naturally present.
- The species of animal for which the food is intended for and the directions for its correct and proper use
- The batch number and the best before date
- The name of the feed
- The name and address of the company responsible for the accuracy of the information
- A description of the food e.g. if it is a complete or complimentary feed or a mineral feed stuff
- Copper – the total level whether added or naturally present
- The micro-organisms e.g. yeast and the strain, the number of colony forming units and the length of time that they will be viable
- Antioxidants, colourings or preservatives added
- The ingredients in descending order by weight, so that the highest percentage inclusion goes first and the lowest goes last. This information will also tell you a lot about the possible conditioning, performance or heating effect that the food may have on your horse
- Protein, oil, fibre and ash, plus calcium if it is higher than 5% and phosphorus if it is higher than 2%
The following information is not legally required but the manufacturer may choose to declare this information to aid the marketing and sale of the particular feed:
- Other trace elements, including whether they are added to the feed or are present naturally
- The total sugar (as sucrose) and starch content. This information is becoming increasingly more popular to declare as horse owners’ perceptions of the effects of sugar and starch grow
- Other vitamins and the time that they are viable for and whether they are present naturally or added
- Any other information that is added should only relate to factors that can be substantiated in measurable terms
- Feed manufacturers should never claim that food can prevent, treat or cure a disease. If a feed company makes such a claim then it is breaking the law and you should question its ethics
So once you have had a thorough look at the feed label and identified the above factors, you then need to gather a few nutritional facts behind the labels before you consider if that food is suitable for your horse.
Protein: This is required for cell renewal, tissue and muscle repair. The quality of the protein is as important as the quantity. Most straight cereals and hays are low in quality protein so signs of a quality protein feed will provide the inclusion of ingredients such as soya bean meal and alfalfa. A ration that is suitable for maintenance or light work will have a protein percentage of between 8-10%. Breeding and “growing” rations will have a higher protein % of up to 16%.
Fibre: This is essential for the horse and can be included in a feed in the form of soya hulls, sugar beet pulp, alfalfa, the inclusion of chopped forages and the seed coat of cereals e.g. wheat feed. If fibre ingredients are high up on the ingredient list on the feed label, then usually these types of feeds will have a ‘less heating’ effect on your horse or pony.
Ash: This refers to the inorganic material (anything that is not protein, oil or carbohydrate) and is usually an indication of how high the mineral inclusion is.
Vitamin A: This plays a role in eyesight and also the formation and protection of the epithelial tissues, which cover the outer surface of the body and the mucous membrane.
Vitamin E: A potent antioxidant which helps to maintain packed cell volume in the blood and it plays and important role in maintaining optimum immune function. Some feeds contain a natural source of vitamin E, which will be identified on the feed label as alpha tocopherol.
Vitamin D: This helps to maintain optimum calcium and phosphate balance in the body and affects bone formation.
Carbohydrates: Currently carbohydrates are not declared on horse feed labels. In equine nutrition we divide carbohydrates up into sugars and non-sugars. The short chains of molecules are sugars, such as glucose and fructose, and the long and more complex chains of molecules are called non-sugars and include cellulose and hemicelluloses (fibre) and starch and fructan (energy sources). The horse finds the longer chain molecules more difficult to digest and digests the fibre carbohydrates in the hindgut using the bacteria that live there.
Copper: This is important for bone growth and haemoglobin formation.
If you are unsure of whether your feed is suitable for your horse or pony, then never be afraid to ask! Saracen Horse Feeds provide a free nutritional advisory service for horse owners. If you would like some professional advice, please either visit our website to complete our Feed Advice Form for a detailed Nutritional plan, or for immediate advice, please call our advice line on 01622 718 487 and speak to one of our qualified nutritionists.