3 things to look for in a horse feed

Planning your horse’s diet isn’t easy! Here are three things to look for when shopping for a horse feed, along with some other important considerations.

Equine nutrition is a complex topic. What nutrients does your horse need to thrive, and how can you make sure he’s getting them in the right amounts? Your veterinarian is a fantastic resource, and should be consulted before any major dietary changes are made. That said, it’s good to have a basic knowledge of what to look for in a feed, so you can ask your vet the right questions at your next appointment.

Here are three important things to look for when shopping for a feed for your equine companion:

1. Base diet (forage type)

The first component for consideration when generating a nutrition program for horses is settling on an appropriate forage. This will lay the ground work for your base diet. In most cases, high quality grass hay should form the foundation of your horse’s feeding regimen. The type of hay that you choose, in combination with laboratory based analyticals that are specific to your particular roughage source, will allow you to determine the most appropriate grain option.

2. Stage of life and physiologic status

The life stage of your animal is also significant when selecting the type of grain to include in your feeding program. A lactating mare, for example, will require a very different nutritional profile than an adult animal at maintenance. Concentrate feeds need to be chosen based on the specific nutrient requirements of the horse in question. In addition, once a decision has been made to move forward with a concentrate feed, it is imperative that the grain be provided in the correct quantity to your animal. Matching the grain type with individual animal requirements and then providing said grain in a quantitative and accurate manner will help to ensure a successful and positive outcome.

3. Type of concentrate (textured vs. pelleted)

Concentrate mixes can be purchased and provided as either grain mixes or commercially manufactured pellets. Grain mixes are basically whole grains that have been supplemented with vitamins and minerals to balance for nutrients that may be lacking in the cereal grains themselves. Whole grains are typically high in energy (calories) due to starch content but are often lacking in other important nutrients. One drawback to whole grain mixes is that they carry the potential to elicit sorting behavior. Pelleted feeds are advantageous in that the grains have been processed into the pellet along with the vitamins and minerals thus reducing the ability of the animal to sort its diet. The best-case scenario is often to simply purchase an appropriate pelleted feed that has been formulated to meet your particular production goals, and then provide that pellet at the appropriate level of intake as determined by the manufacturer or your veterinarian or nutritionist.

Understanding labels

Being able to accurately interpret the feed tag that is associated with the specific product that you are purchasing is an important step in making sure that a particular feed is right for your animal. All feeds that are commercially produced must possess a label that provides basic information about the feed in question. Factors such as weight of the product you are purchasing and product name should be clearly visible. A guaranteed analysis should also be included to help you evaluate basic nutrients that have been guaranteed by the manufacturer. Feeding specifications should also be visible on the tag. These directions should clearly indicate how the product should be provisioned to produce the anticipated result.

Shop for quality

If possible, it is always good practice to dig a little deeper into not only what is presented on the feed tag but also the individual quality control that is practiced by the manufacturer. Understanding how your grain is produced at the feed plant will assist you with determining whether that particular product is right for your animal.

Consider getting a nutritional analysis

In some cases, it may be prudent to submit an actual feed sample to a commercial laboratory. This will allow for an unbiased reference by the customer of the products basic nutritional profile. Commercial analyticals are typically inexpensive, often less than the cost of one bag of feed and can provide you with valuable information that may or may not be presented on the tag.


Dr. Willis received his Ph.D. in Animal Nutrition Science from Texas A&M University in 2002 and has worked in the field of animal nutrition for over 18 years. He has extensive experience in the development and implementation of both bovine and equine specific formulations and currently works via private contract formulating diets for individual and larger scale operations.