Equis ISSN 2398-2977

Nutrition: commercial feeds

Contributor(s): Robert A Eustace, Graham Munroe, Katie Williams (nee Lugsden)

Compound feeds

  • Designed by nutritionists to:
    • Contain a mixture of ingredients to provide a balanced diet for a particular purpose.
    • Provide a balanced diet when fed at the quantities recommended by the manufacturer which is calculated using bodyweight and workload.
    • Meet the requirements of all types of horses and ponies due to the wide range of specialized feeds available, ie veterans   Nutrition: geriatric  , young stock   Nutrition: neonate  , brood mares   Nutrition: brood mare  .
  • Quality:
    • Compound feeds are produced by national and regional manufacturers and will vary considerably in nutritional content and quality.
    • Least-cost formulations are used by some manufacturers which means that the ingredients used can change which may be detrimental to the horse's health.
    • Poorer quality compound feeds may not be guaranteed free from prohibited substances as defined by the Jockey Club and the FEI.
    • Processing to improve digestibility of the ingredients used increases costs. Cheaper feeds are therefore likely to be less digestible.
    • Using vitamin   Nutrition: vitamins  and mineral   Nutrition: minerals  premixes that are specially formulated to meet the requirements of a specific type of horse or pony also increases costs. Cheaper feeds are likely to contain 'off the shelf' pre-mixes.
  • Commonly used ingredients:
    • Cereals: oats, barley, maize, wheat.
    • Cereal by-products: oatfeed, wheatfeed, bran, cereal fibre meal, bread meal.
    • Forage products: alfalfa chaff, meal or pellets, grass meal, oat straw chaff, nutritionally improved straw (NIS).
    • Protein sources: soya, alfalfa, peas, beans, sunflower meal, distillers grains.
    • Fat/oil sources: soya oil, full fat soya, linseed flax, rice bran, vegetable oil.
    • Other ingredients: molasses, herbs, yeast culture, probiotics   Nutrition: probiotics  , vitamins   Nutrition: vitamins  and minerals   Nutrition: minerals  as pellets or powder.
  • Compound feeds can either be in the form of a coarse mix or cubes also known as nuts.
  • Pellets tend to have a smaller diameter than cubes at about 4 mm.
  • Cubes and pellets:
    • Ingredients are ground to a powder and then pushed through a dye.
    • A binding agent such as molasses and oil can be used.
    • Steam is used by some manufacturers to bind cubes which increases the moisture content of the feed and necessitates the inclusion of a preservative to prevent moulding or deterioration.
  • Coarse mixes:
    • Combines cereals and legumes which will have been rolled and heat processed to improve digestibility with pellets or cubes containing vitamins   Nutrition: vitamins  and minerals   Nutrition: minerals  .
    • Fiber may be included loose as chaff or ground and added to the pellets or cubes.
  • Feed manufacturers must, by law, declare and display the levels of certain nutrients and a list of ingredients on each bag. The nutrients that must be declared are crude protein, crude fiber, oil, ash, vitamins A, D, E and copper. Some feed manufacturers declare the level of Digestible Energy (DE) on the bag but this is currently being reviewed as the procedure for calculating DE for horses has not been established. Ingredients should be listed in descending order of quantity included.
  • Processing of Ingredients:
    • Rolling increases the surface area of cereals such as wheat, barley, maize and legumes such as soya and peas which promotes more efficient digestion. Oats require less aggressive processing as they are bigger and easier for horses with sound dentition to chew and so tend to be bruised or clipped rather than rolled.
    • Cooking ingredients aims to improve their digestibility by increasing the proportion of starch that is absorbed in the small intestine. This helps to avoid digestive upsets such as laminitis   Foot: laminitis  and colic   Abdomen: pain - adult  that can be caused by an over-load of starch reaching the hind gut.
    • Micronization: involves infrared irradiation to rapidly heat the moisture in the grain resulting in the starch granules swelling and rupturing. Rolling after micronization reduces the re-forming of the starch granules.
    • Extrusion: involves pushing feed materials through a dye under high pressure. The sudden release of high pressure as the material passes through the holes causes the material to expand. The use of steam injected into the material cooks the ingredients and influences how much expansion occurs.
    • Boiling: traditionally cereals were cooked on the yard. This is a laborious process and is not as effective as micronization or extrusion.
  • There are feeds available that are promoted as being complete feeds, ie no forage is required. These can be useful for horses with poor dentition that are unable to manage long-stem forage. The average horse will consume these feeds much more quickly than long-stem forage which may lead to boredom and behavioral problems such as wood chewing or cribbing   Behavior: crib-biting and wind-sucking  .
  • See table for nutrient content of some of the more popular compound feeds.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Cuddeford D (1994) Artificially dehydrated lucerne for horses. Vet Rec 135, 426-429.
  • Cuddeford D et al (1990) Potential of alfalfa as a source of calcium for calcium-deficient horses. Vet Rec 126, 425-429.
  • Kempson S A (1987) Scanning electron microscope observations on hoof horn from horses with brittle feet. Vet Rec 120, 568-570.