Nutritional terms used to describe and analyse horse feed products can sometimes seem confusing. Here are some explanations as to what some of these terms mean listed alphabetically:
Alfalfa is an important member of the legume family, which are a family of agricultural plants that have very deep roots. Alfalfa’s deep roots contain lots of useful minerals for your horse or pony, much more than normal grass or hay. Alfalfa is very popular in horse feed because it is a great source of energy, protein and other minerals that are great for your horse or pony’s health. It also has a high fibre content and relatively low fructan levels making it ideal for equines that are prone to laminitis.
Traditionally made from oat straw and often has molasses added to it to make it more palatable. Chaffs made from alfalfa and alfalfa and straw mixes are available as are chaffs made from dried grass. Chaff is added to feed to make it last longer, especially for good doers that do not receive much feed and also to slow down the rate of eating. Horses that tend to eat very quickly can be prone to choke and adding chaff will help to slow them down and encourage them to chew their feed really well. Chaff also adds some extra fibre to the diet which is beneficial to all horses and ponies to help keep their digestive systems healthy. Oat straw chaff is low in calories and is ideal for good doers, alfalfa chaffs can be useful for horses that are working harder or for those that need to put on weight. The dried grass type chaffs tend to be quite high in energy and are also useful for horses that are working hard.
DE (or Digestible Energy Level)
This is the energy level of the feed after digestion and therefore the energy available to the horse for maintenance and exercise. It is important to remember that energy and calories are basically the same things so feeding a higher energy feed will mean that your horse is receiving more calories.
Fibre is very important to the horse to keep its digestive system healthy and functioning correctly. High fibre feeds tend to be lower in starch which means they are a better choice for horses that tend to be excitable or fizzy.
Maize is a cereal just like oats and barley and is the ingredient that looks a bit like corn flakes in your pony’s mix, in fact in America maize is commonly called corn. Maize is usually fed flaked or micronised to improve its digestibility. Flaking means that the maize has been cooked in steam, whilst micronising involves cooking the maize at high temperatures and then rolling it. Maize is higher in starch than the other cereals and is low in fibre making it very energy dense and in fact, maize has the highest energy levels of all the cereals and contains twice as much energy as the same volume of oats. Care should be taken when feeding maize, as with any cereal, not to feed large quantities at any one time, starchy feeds like maize are digested in the small intestine but if a horse eats too much of them at a time, some of the undigested feed may enter the large intestine (which usually digests fibre) and this will upset the balance of good bacteria in the large intestine which can lead to digestive upsets such as colic and laminitis. Maize is a good source of vitamin A needed for good eyesight, growth and formation of tissue, but it is a poor source of protein.
Oats have been the traditional feed for horses until the introduction of mixes and pelleted feeds approximately 40 years ago. This was because they are easy to feed, oats can be fed whole – unlike other cereals they do not need to be micronised (cooked) before feeding. Oats are the highest in fibre and contain the least amount of energy when compared to other cereals such as barley and maize and because of this are not as likely to make horses and ponies fizzy or hyper as we commonly believe that they do. Nowadays oats are most likely to be fed to horses that are working hard such as racehorses and eventers, although they are often in small quantities to a horse’s existing feed to give a little more ‘oomph’. The disadvantage of oats is that they tend to be very low in calcium but high in phosphorous. Calcium is needed by all horses, especially youngsters and brood mares, to maintain healthy bones, but too much phosphorous in the diet will prevent the horse from absorbing calcium. This is why oats should not be fed on their own to youngsters and broodmares, but if oats are fed with other feedstuffs that are high in calcium such as alfalfa, sugar beet pulp or a specially designed supplement these problems can be avoided.
Oats are available in several different forms:
Whole oats: These oats are exactly the same as when they have been harvested, but they can be difficult to chew for horses that have teeth problems
Rolled oats: The fibrous outer layer is broken to make the oats easier to digest.
Bruised oats: This is similar to rolling, but both rolling and bruising will mean that the oats will have a shorter shelf life.
Naked oats: These oats do not have the fibrous outer husk which means that they are much higher in energy than standard oats and are suitable for horses in hard work.
Oil provides a good source of slow release energy which is less likely to cause excitable behaviour and can help to improve condition and stamina levels. Allen & Page feeds contain linseed to provide the horse with omega 3 oils, essential for keeping skin cells healthy and to help promote a shiny coat.
Protein is needed by the horse for growth and repair of new cells and tissues, the production of muscle tissue and for growing youngsters. Quality of protein is just as important as quantity of protein and all Allen & Page feeds contain high-quality protein that contains good levels of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Various old wives tales surround protein; however, it is not responsible for laminitis or tying up.
A prebiotic is a non-digestible feed ingredient that limits the number of harmful microbes or improves the digestive environment for beneficial microbes.
Probiotics enhance digestion by improving the balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Giving a maintenance dose on a continuous basis can also be useful in maintaining a healthy digestive system.
Starch is made up of non-structural carbohydrates which are broken down by the horse in the small intestine to provide energy. Generally this energy is fast release energy which provides a sudden burst of energy and is essential for horses that are working hard, however, in some horses, this can cause excitable behaviour. Therefore, if your horse has a tendency to be fizzy or ‘heat up’ it is better to choose a feed with a low starch content and higher fibre and oil levels to provide the necessary energy in a slow-release form.
Vitamins & Minerals
All Allen & Page feeds contain a full range of vitamins and minerals to help keep your horse healthy. Our feeds will provide a balanced diet when fed at recommended amounts for the horse’s bodyweight and workload.