What do you feed your horse? Pony cubes? veteran mix? stud mix? showjumper mix? convalescent mix? cool mix? high fibre nuts? high fibre chaff? molasses free chaff? low cal mix? etc etc. But what is the difference? Have you ever looked at the ingredients label to see what you are ACTUALLY feeding your horse? How are those ingredients farmed, harvested, processed, chemically treated, etc? Ever wondered what those ingredients on a label of commercial horse feed really are? Here are some of the most used ingredients in processed horse feed, and the truth about what they really are. Marketing uses words like ‘pure’, and ‘natural’ but in reality, most feeds are far from being what your horses’ digestive system and gut bacteria actually evolved to ‘eat’ for hundreds of thousands of years. THAT’S OUR DEFINITION OF NATURAL! In the last 10 to 15 years, feed ingredients have significantly changed. Here’s why:
Desiccation of combinable crops
The last available official figures for the UK show that over 90% of farmers desiccated over 40% of their combinable cereal crops, and over 80% of oilseed crops in 2006/2007. What does this mean? Desiccation is the drying out (or killing) of the crop using weedkillers such as Roundup or diquat, 10 to 14 days before harvest, to make the crop cheaper and easier to harvest. The weedkiller stays on the crop – the outer part of the grain and the straw contain the highest residues. Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) is allowed, under European legislation, to be at levels up to 5 million times higher in animal feed than what is allowed in our drinking water. These figures are not based on any safety tests in animals – just limits based on the amounts of weedkiller used.
Wheat-feed is not ground up whole wheat or wheat bran. This is the major milling waste by-product of flour production, and the main bulking agent in horse feeds. Wheatfeed consists principally of fragments of the outer skins and particles of the grain, course middlings and fine middlings, the outer husk and hull. It is processed (usually pelleted) to bind the fine particles together, using chemicals such as lignosulphonate. In addition to seed treatment and ammonium nitrate fertilisers, wheat grown in the UK receives on average 3 treatments of fungicides, 3 herbicides, 2 growth regulators and 1 insecticide. The grain may then be dusted, sprayed or gassed with pesticides in farm grain stores, followed by another possible dust, gas or spray of pesticides in commercial grain storage. The fabric of the stores may also be sprayed with pesticides. Wheat-feed is primarily the outer parts of the wheat grain that have been in direct contact with these various treatments, and contain dust, dirt, mould spores and mycotoxins concentrated during the milling process, plus weedkiller from desiccation treatments. The legislation governing safe levels of mycotoxins in human food is not applicable for animal feeds – 🐎 only recommended levels are made and not enforced. Wheat-feed is high fibre but very poor in essential nutrients. Why feed wheat-feed when good quality and cheaper high fibre is in your haynet? Do we really know what all these chemical residues are doing to the good bacteria in your horse’s gut?
Oat-feed is not ground up whole oats. Oat-feed is a waste by-product from the milling industry. It is composed of 4:1 oat hulls (the very outer part of the grain) and the dust mainly consisting of oat hairs lying between the grain and the hull. Oat hull has a digestibility little better than that of oat straw. It has to be processed to bind the hulls and the dust together into pellets, ie pelleted using binding agents such as lignosulphonate or molasses or starches. In addition to seed treatment (to prevent bird, slug damage, etc) and ammonium nitrate fertilisers, oats grown in the UK receive on average 2 treatments of herbicide, 2 treatments of fungicide, 1 growth regulator and 1 insecticide spray. The grain may then be dusted with a pesticide in farm grain stores, followed by another possible spraying of pesticide in the commercial grain store. The fabric of stores is also sprayed with pesticides. Oat-feed is primarily the outer hull of the oat grain which has been in direct contact with these various treatments and contains dust, dirt and mould spores. During the milling of oats to produce ‘porridge oats’ for human consumption, the naturally occurring mycotoxins present in the outer parts of the oat grain are concentrated into the waste by-product, which in the past was composted and returned to the ground as fertiliser. Nowadays, this waste by-product is termed Oatfeed and can contain mycotoxins at levels up to 500 times greater than our ‘porridge oats’. The legislation governing safe levels of mycotoxins in human food is not applicable to animal feeds. Oat-feed is high fibre but again very poor in essential nutrients. Why feed oat-feed when good quality and cheaper high fibre is in your haynet?
Nutritionally Improved Straw
Sounds good but what exactly is this? Straw treated with sodium hydroxide to break down the structural fibre (lignins) and increase its digestibility. Sodium hydroxide is otherwise known as caustic soda. It is principally used in the papermaking industry, manufacturing of soaps, detergents and as a drain cleaner. It is the most common ingredient in oven cleaners. Straw treated with sodium hydroxide is very often then pelleted using lignosulphonate or other binding agents. Pesticide usage on the crop (from which the straw is harvested) as above depending on if it is wheat, oat or barley straw. Straw may have high levels of weedkiller residue if it has been sourced from a desiccated crop. Do we really know what chemical reactions are taking place on the straw with all the pesticides, weedkillers, chemical treatments to make these processed straw pellets, and what effect do these chemicals have on the gut bacteria? We don’t know as no research has been done as yet.
Cooked Soya Bean, HiPro Soya, Soya Hulls
Soya in theory is an excellent protein source. It’s a relatively cheap protein to produce and hence is now a very popular ingredient in feeds. Raw soya beans contain allergenic, goitrogenic and anticoagulant factors in addition to protease inhibitors. Many people are allergic to soya products which accordingly are labelled in human foods. To avoid these anti-nutrients, Asian cultures traditionally fermented soya (soy sauce, natto, miso, tempeh) or sprouted the beans. Asian people have been fermenting soya for thousands of years before it became a protein ingredient in most western diets, yet the traditional average consumption per person per day of fermented soya in Japan is only 2 teaspoons. The western culture is to eat in large quantities after cooking (toast, micronize or other heat process) and not all of these anti-nutrients are lost. For laminitic and metabolic compromised horses, the goitrogenic activity of legumes may act as a thyroid inhibitor. The majority of the world’s soya production is from genetically modified crops (a bacterial gene conferring resistance to the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide is genetically cloned into the plant). Hundreds of thousands of acres of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for GM soya plantations, being sprayed with Roundup herbicide. Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) is an endocrine disruptor – ie it can disrupt normal metabolism. Published research also shows that feeding GM corn has adverse effects on mammalian health, including liver, kidney and metabolism. Is genetically modified soya a natural ingredient – ie did the gut bacteria evolve for hundreds of thousands of years to eat this ingredient? We think not!
Pelleting and Binding Agents
These are needed to bind the fine powders, dust and hairs as waste byproducts from the milling process into solid pellets, cubes or mixes. Common pelleting and binding aids include molasses, lignosulphonate (sulphite lie) and clays (bentonite, hydrated aluminium silicate). Molasses may be used up to 15% or more in some cheaper feeds.
Molasses have very limited nutritional benefits – the main purpose of being a cheap, sweet, binding agent for dust and fine particles. Sulphites are one of the nine most common food products causing severe adverse reactions in people with respiratory disease such as asthma, also causes hives. Sulphites are used also as a preservative and are harmful to the good bacteria in the gut. Clays used for pelleting in horse feeds are the same clays used for making cat litter, cement and adhesives. Clay may inhibit various nutrient absorption and binds non-selectively to bacteria, so it will remove the good bacteria as well as the bad from the gut.
Our definition of natural ingredients is those that your horse and its gut bacteria (microbes) evolved for thousands of years to utilise as a food source. With so many chemical residues and chemical processing treatments, how natural are these key ingredients found in most commercial feeds?
If you are feeding hard feed based on these highly processed ingredients, try a little experiment. Remove the processed waste byproducts from the diet. Try our feeds – with no waste byproducts, chemical processing, additives, preservatives, synthetic nutrients, non GM and either certified organic or tested to ensure minimal pesticide residue, our feeds are formulated to support healthy gut bacteria. And see the difference for yourself. Knowledge is empowering – please share this post with your friends.
This blog is part of an archived library. These blogs were originally written from 2009 through to 2014, so some are over a decade old (apologies the exact dates have been lost on website updates). Research and informed opinions are a constantly evolving stream of work, so there will always be updates required to any older blog post, research paper, etc. For the latest information, please email [email protected] or telephone 01953 797050 for nutritional advice. Thank you.
Copyright – Dr. Debbie Carley PhD/Thunderbrook Equestrian Ltd – if sharing, copying or using any piece of this article, please credit Dr. Debbie Carley as its author. Thanks in advance.