Not all horses need grain. However, there are times when a horse needs additional nutrients or energy beyond what a daily supply of hay can provide. Deciding on what type of grain, feed, or nutritional supplements to buy can be confusing. The decision can be easier by learning how to interpret the feed tag or label on the bag.
By law, certain information must be on the feed tag. Reviewing the product's name and product's purpose statement is a good starting point for making a selection. It will indicate what type of horse the feed is intended for. For example, is it developed for a maintenance horse, a rapidly growing weanling, or a senior horse? That information alone may be enough to narrow down a feed choice. However, there is additional information on the tag that will allow horse owners to make more informed decisions.
The required guaranteed analysis must include the percent of crude protein, crude fiber, and crude fat in the feed. Also listed is the minimum and maximum amount of calcium, as well as the minimum amounts of phosphorus, copper, zinc, selenium and vitamin A in the feed. He horse owner should become familiar with the general requirements for the horse the grain is intended. The guaranteed analysis information can then be used to choose between feeds.
For example, a horse in light exercise might need maintenance feed only containing 10% crude protein. A young, rapidly growing weanling might require a feed containing 14 to 16% crude protein. If the horse has trouble maintaining weight, consider a feed containing less fiber and more fat, since fat contains more calories. Alternatively, if the horse is senior and has difficulty chewing long stem forages, choose a complete feed that includes the horse's entire fiber requirement. Some horses have a preference for the form of the feed. The tag should list if the feed is textured, pelleted or extruded.
Ingredients are typically listed in the order from greatest to least amount. Some ingredients are listed specifically, while others fit into general categories like "processed grain by‐products". This gives the manufacturer flexibility to select from a list of possible ingredients that can fulfill a particular role. This allows the manufacturer to keep costs down by selecting the most economical ingredients and to avoid having to rewrite the feed tag each time ingredients change.
Not all of the information important to the horse owner is listed on the feed tag. A very important aspect of horse nutrition is the energy content of the complete ration being fed. Energy content, quality/ bioavailability of feeds, or specific amounts of any one ingredient are not commonly listed on a feed tag.
It is important for horse owners to understand how much feed a horse requires. The recommended guidelines on the feed tag should be followed in order to satisfy a horse's nutritional needs. Even though commercially prepared horse feeds may seem expensive, horse owners should not top‐dress or dilute the feed by adding other less expensive grains or feed additives to the commercial ration in order to make it last longer. Doing so will disrupt the calculated nutritional balance of the ration.
The name and address of the manufacturer is listed on the feed tag with contact information in case horse owners have questions. Although the date of manufacture is listed on the tag, that information may be encoded and is not easily discernable by the purchaser. It can be useful when contacting the manufacturer. Forage should be the backbone of your horse's diet. Grain and feed supplements should only be added when additional nutrient and energy is required, as is the case for working, growing, and reproducing horses.
By Marcia Hathaway, PhD, Univ. of MN
Horse Newsletter (April 2009 - Volume 5, Issue 4)
University of Minnesota Extension