Equine nutrition has come a long way from simple oats and grain. Any horse owner will recognize the feelings of indecision and mild panic that come with staring down aisles of glossy feed bags at their local feed store. Today, there are dozens upon dozens of options for feed, and sorting through all those nutrition labels, specialized diets and marketing claims can be daunting. Does this feed have enough protein? Does that feed contain the right types of vitamins and minerals? How can I ensure my horse is receiving the best-quality nutrition?
The answer says ADM’s Forage First Equine Nutritionist, James Lattimer, is buying premium-quality feed.
Why is premium feed often the right choice for optimum horse health? Here are five reasons:
Reason #1: Your Horse Will Absorb More Nutrients
“When we talk about premium ingredients, what it comes down to is digestibility,” says Dr. Lattimer. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, digestibility is a term used to describe the percentage or proportion of nutrients in food available for absorption from the GI tract. When feed ingredients aren’t highly digestible, their nutrients pass through the horse without being absorbed—essentially worthless. It’s only when nutrients are absorbed that they’re available for growth, reproduction, performance, and health maintenance.
“At ADM, we want to maximize digestibility, so we utilize ingredients that are more digestible than others,” says Dr. Lattimer. “Not only do you not need to feed as much, but more of those good nutrients are available to your horse.” For example, ADM’s Forage First ultra-premium GLO line of feeds doesn’t contain rice or oat hulls, which can be considered low-quality in terms of their digestibility. Instead, the line uses soybean hulls as a fiber source, which are more readily digested. “Of all our plant-based protein sources, soybean hulls are the gold standard,” says Dr. Lattimer. “It’s a highly digestible fiber source and has the same digestible energy as that of alfalfa.”
Bottom line: Premium feeds use ingredients selected for their high digestibility, which means your horse will actually absorb more of the nutrients essential for their health.
Reason #2: You’ll Save Money
Some might balk at the price tag that comes with premium feeds, but higher-quality feeds can actually save horse owners money. While the cost per bag might be cheaper with standard-quality feeds, the cost per head per day is actually more expensive.
Returning to the example of rice and oat hulls vs. soybean hulls:
“At ADM, we avoid rice hulls and oat hulls because they aren’t premium ingredients,” says Dr. Lattimer. “If we used those, the price per bag would be cheaper because those ingredients cost less. But in terms of digestibility, rice and oat hulls rank pretty low. When you factor digestibility in with the cost, the rice hulls and oat hulls are actually more expensive because you have to feed more of them to get the same amount of energy.”
For example, horse owners might only have to feed 4 pounds of a premium product versus 7 pounds of a lower-quality product to get the same energy.
“When weighing different feed options, it’s helpful for horse owners to consider the price per day instead of the price of the bag,” continues Dr. Lattimer. “In premium feeds, there’s more concentrated, more digestible nutrition. It’s nutrition that’s actually getting absorbed and utilized by your horse instead of coming out in the feces. That’s just wasted money.”
Bottom line: The highly digestible ingredients and concentrated nutrition in premium feeds mean you don’t have to feed your horse as much. The per head per day cost is less than that of lower-quality feeds.
Reason #3: High-Quality Protein
Protein is necessary for body growth and maintenance in horses at all stages of life. Mature horses only need about 10% crude protein in their diet, which is often satisfied by being fed an adequate amount of forage. However, forage doesn’t always provide horses with enough of the essential amino acids that make up protein. If your horse has weak hooves, poor coat quality or poor topline development, they might require a better-quality protein than what’s provided in their forage.
Premium feeds use ingredients that are selected for their high concentration of amino acids.
“Essential amino acids are amino acids that the horse cannot make within their GI tract,” says Dr. Lattimer. “They must be provided in the horse’s diet. We want to ensure our horses are getting high-quality proteins, which means proteins that have a greater proportion of essential amino acids. This is especially critical when we’re talking about growing horses and gestating or lactating mares.
“With lower-quality protein sources, like distiller’s grains or corn gluten meal, you might meet a horse’s crude protein requirements but still be deficient in the essential amino acids.”
Bottom line: Premium feeds use protein sources with a higher concentration of essential amino acids.
Reason #4: Not All Starches are Created Equal
“Our premium feed lines are free from corn grain because corn starch is not the most digestible source of energy,” says Dr. Lattimer. While starch is a readily available form of energy, it can be detrimental to horse health when fed improperly. When starch isn’t absorbed in the small intestine, it enters the hindgut where it can create digestive upset. When too much starch is fermented in the large intestine it can lead to serious issues like colic and laminitis.
Oat starch, however, is more readily digested in the small intestine, “which is where we want it to be digested,” says Dr. Lattimer. “Data supports that oat starch is more digestible than corn starch, so by using oat starch, we decrease the risk of starch entering the hind-gut and causing problems.”
Additionally, highly digestible starch sources mean having to feed less starch. Low-starch feeds can prevent horses from having a surplus of energy.
Bottom line: Premium feeds use starch sources that are safely digested in the small intestine.
Reason #5: Optimize Your Horse’s Well-Being
Premium feeds frequently contain additional or specially formulated ingredients to maximize your horse’s health and wellness. ADM’s Forage First GLO-Line includes:
Stabilized Rice Bran
The fat and fiber in stabilized rice bran are highly concentrated and easily digestible. It provides “cool” calories (as opposed to high-starch hyperactivity) and the fat can mean shinier coats. The stabilization process increases its shelf life.
Another fat source, ground flaxseed is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to have anti-inflammatory properties—ideal for performance horses and senior horses with osteoarthritis and joint problems.
Organic (or Chelated) Trace Minerals
When minerals are attached to an organic molecule through the chelation process, they become significantly more bioavailable. For example, standard feeds may contain zinc oxide, but premium feeds might contain zinc methionine. “When zinc is attached to the amino acid methionine, it increases the bioavailability of that zinc molecule by 200+%,” says Dr. Lattimer. “We have carefully formulated GROSTRONG® minerals in all our products. It’s not just a bunch of trace minerals thrown willy-nilly in a product. We worry about deficiencies, toxicities, and how minerals interact with each other, so the ratio is absolutely critical.”
Bottom line: Premium feeds include ingredients that aren’t always found in standard feeds. These ingredients help your horse reach optimal health and wellness.
If you are adjusting your horse’s diet, we encourage you to work with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat health problems; it is purely informational.