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Types Of Feed

Notes that may help anyone going for their BHS Stage 1 exam or doing their NVQ level 1 or 2 in Horse Care and Riding
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Types Of Feed

Post by TracingEquines » 19 Nov 2011, 2:38 pm

Types Of Feed

Feeds can be analysed to indicate the nutrients they contain, and a basic knowledge of the composition of various feeds is essential when preparing a feed ration for a horse. Every horseman is aware that oats and beans are more "heating" than barley, but this superficial knowledge is not adequate and tables showing feed values should be used.

The types of feed given to horses fall in FOUR main categories:

* Cereals - the energy-giving basis of the concentrate ration. Examples: oats, barley, and maize.
* Protein Feeds - these can be of animal origin e.g. bone meal, dried milk. or of plant origin e.g. linseed, soya and other beans and peas.
* Intermediate Feeds - these include wheatbran, sugar beet, and grass meal.
* Forages - grass, hay, haylage and silage.
* Compound Feeds - nuts and coarse mixes.



Oats have a high energy value due to their starch content, and are the traditional grain fed to working horses in this country and the northern European area. If - and only if - they are of good quality, oats can provide enough protein for the horse in hard work. They can be fed cooked as a light gruel after hard work. Oats are long and thin and used to fizz horses up.

The grain should be plump, with more kernel in relation to husk, shiny and dust-free, and a pale yellow colour with a sweet smell. Black oats are also available but are becoming increasingly uncommon.

Oats are fed bruised so they are easier for the horse to digest, they should be used within three weeks as the nutritive value gradually deteriorates. Boiling increases digestibility and is useful for a horse in poor condition.

Oats can make up 90 % of the concentrate ration, but it must be remembered that they are low in the amino acids lysine and methionine, with a poor calcium to phosphorus ratio.


Barley has a higher energy content than oats - hence its fattening properties - but a lower fibre content, which results in a lower maximum inclusion rate at the ration of 50 %. To cook whole barley, cover the grains 1 lb (450g) per horse, bring to the boil, simmer for 4-6 hours. The grains will split and swell becoming soft.

The grain should be full, clean and shiny with a rounder, plumper appearance than oats. There should be no sharp awns amongst the grains.

Barley can be fed rolled or boiled or heat-treated (micronised). These treatments all increase digestibility and palatability. Rolled barley can be crumbly and dusty, and the micronised form, although more expensive, is becoming increasingly popular and in included at high levels in some coarse mixes.

Barley seems less likely to make horses overexcited or "gassy" than oats, but this property is hard to explain scientifically. Like oats, barley has a poor calcium to phosphorus ratio.


Maize has a higher energy content and contain little fibre; it is rarely included at more than 25 % of the concentrate ration. It appears to be quite "heating", and too much may produce flat lumps under the skin.

Maize is fattening and lies in the stomach for a long time so it should not be fed to horses doing strenuous or fast work e.g. hunting, racing or eventing. Feeding maize cooked or flaked makes it more digestible.

Maize is generally fed micronised and flaked, and should be bright golden in colour, crisp and clean.

Protein Feeds

Beans And Peas

These can be fed crushed, split or micronised. Peas and locust beans, which are brown and sweet-tasting, are frequently found in coarse mixes. Not only do they have an energy content equivalent to that of oats, but they also have a high protein value. They are suitable for horses in hard work or out-wintered stock, but they appear to be very "heating" and should be fed with discretion.


Linseed is the seed of the flax plant and is high in protein and fat, hence its high energy content although its protein is not high. The seed should be small, flat, shiny and dark brown, and it has to be carefully prepared: the linseed should be soaked overnight (for at least 6 hours) and then brought to the boil and simmered for at least one hour, or until the seed have ruptured and the liquid is thick and jelly-like. This liquid can be added to the feed cold, or to bran hot to make an appetising bran mash. Linseed is an additive rather than a feed and comes in a tea or jelly. It helps horses lose their winter coat and foals to lose their hair quicker.

Linseed can now be cooked conveniently in microwave ovens, thus over-coming cooking problems. Linseed promotes a shiny coat and healthy skin. It should be fed in small amounts - 1 handful per horse per feed.

Prussic acid is the name of the toxin in Linseed.

Intermediate Feeds


Bran is fed as a filler and as a binder for feed, or as a palatable, slightly laxative mash. The energy content is low, thus bran in not "heating" and is useful for feeding resting horses. Although the protein content is high, it is not good-quality protein.

Bran is the inner husk of the wheat grain and should ideally consist of broad, pinkish sweet-smelling flakes. Good bran is hard to come by, and rather than feed expensive, poor quality bran it may be better to use hay chaff or sugar beet pulp to bulk out feeds.

Bran affects calcium uptake, and a calcium supplement should be fed when bran is used.

Sugar Beet Pulp

Molassed sugar beet pulp is a useful source of energy and digestible fibre, energy being instantly available from the sugar which is easily digested. Energy is also supplied during fermentation of the digestible fibre in the large intestine. This is in contrast to the fibre in, for example, bran, which is largely indigestible and merely acts as a filler.

Sugar beet pulp is palatable and can be included at levels of up to 10 % dry weight of the corn ration, even in horses doing hard work.

The high calcium to phosphorus ratio in sugar beet pulp can help right the imbalance caused by cereals in the ration.

Sugar beet is fattening, high in carbohydrates and protein and is a succelent.

* Sugar beet pellets or cubes need soaking for 24 hours at 1 part sugar beet to 3 parts water.
* Sugar beet shreds need soaking for at least 12 hours at 1 part sugar beet to 2 parts water.

Sugar beet must be soaked before feeding otherwise it can swell in the stomach causing acute and dangerous colic.


The horse's natural food is grass. Grass can be conserved for winter feeding in several ways - hay, silage and haylage, are all used to provide bulk in the horse's ration. Bulk must make up at least 25 % of the horse's total food intake, and absolute minimum being 0.7 kg per 100 kg body weight, i.e 3.5 kg (8 lb) hay per day for a 500 kg horse in fast work. For a horse in light work, bulk would probably make up about 75 % of the ration.

Conserved grass can only be as good as the original grass minus conservation losses; so when assessing the crop from which it came, then consider how well it has been conserved.


The quality of hay feed can make or break a diet. Good hay should be greenish, smell sweet, and be dust and mould free. Dusty hay can damage a horse's wind, and should be thoroughly damped if there is no alternative to feeding it. Mouldy hay should never be fed.

There are THREE common types of hay. MEADOW HAY is made from permanent pasture containing vetches and herbs, and is usually soft hay with a low protein content. SEED HAY is made from rye-grass based leys, giving a coarser, harder hay with higher protein values. Due to the coarse grass types, seed hay needs a long spell of good weather to be made well. Otherwise it has to be conditioned, or lacerated by machine, to enable it to dry more quickly, but if it is rained on after this, much of the nutritive value is washed out of the hay. LUCERNE (alfalfa) is a legume grown in small quantities in the east of England. Due to the price and high protein value, its main use is to supplement grass-hay ration. Good Lucerne hay is usually barn dried.


The best silage for horses is grass pickled in its own juice. However, additives are often used and the horse owner should be aware of this.

In all silage-making processes, as much air as possible is removed and an air-tight seal made. The micro-organisms present in the grass cause fermentation, and acids are produced which prevent the growth of further, destructive micro-organisms and preserve the grass in much the same way that acetic acid (vinegar) preserves pickles.


The baled form is usually fed to horses, and it is best described as a compromise between hay and silage. It is an expensive form of forage to feed and has a high water content; it does not keep well and must be used within three days of opening. However, it is excellent for horses with wind problems.

Hydroponic "Grass"

Hydroponics is a method of growing forage in water, without soil, in specially heated, lit and irrigated machine. The "grass" is grown from soaked barley seeds and takes 5 to 14 days to grow from "planting" to harvest. Thus fresh, green grass is available 365 days of the year.

Compound Feeds

These are feeds which have been formulated and mixed together to form a balanced ration. There are FOUR main types of compounds available.

* Complete Cubes - to be fed alone, and contain both the forage and the concentrate part of the ration.
* Concentrate Cubes - formulated as complete concentrate rations to be fed with normal roughage.
* Protein Concentrate - high-protein pellets designed for dilution with cereals and other constituents to form a balanced ration which is fed with roughage.
* Coarse Mixes - of cereals, intermediate feeds and other nutrients.

Compound feeds contain a mineral and vitamin premix, and the amount and type of supplement fed will be affected according to the amount of compound fed. If half the food is made up of a cube, the chosen supplement may only have to be fed at half the recommended dose. Since horse and pony cubes generally have a low mineral and vitamin level, the competition horse may require additional supplementation.

Coarse mixes range from mixtures of horse and pony cubes, rolled oats, barley and maize, to mixes of high-protein cubes, peas, beans, linseed cake, locust bean, etc. These mixes are usually very palatable to the horse and attractive to the owner - which is equally important ! This is due to the mixture of ingredients being bound together by corn syrup or molasses. Coarse mixes are designed to be fed with hay alone, and it is pointless to mix cereals with them.

Grass Nuts

This is a concentrate feed that helps to put weight on the horse. They are not as nutritious as pony nuts.


These are a compound foodstuff and can include bran, oats, barley, linseed, maize, grass meal, molasses and other nutrients. Some varieties may also include bone meal, vitamins and minerals.


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