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  • June 03, 2022 3 min read

    There has been a lot of talk and confusion about whether it is safe to feed linseed (flaxseed) to horses. The short answer is YES, it is safe to feed to horses, and there are a variety of ways that it can be incorportated in your horse's diet. Before we get into how to feed linseed, let's talk about the why.

    First of all, linseeds are high in omega-3, an essentail fatty acid that we need to ensure our horse's are getting, because their body can't make it on their own. Omega-3s are particualrly important because they are thought to reduce inflammation and assist in joint and respiratory health. Horses will usually obtain omega-3 from pasture grasses. However, the quality of pasture will change between the seasons, and if we then further add grains to a horse's diet, we will begin to change the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6, making omega-6 higher in the diet. So, by supplementing with linseed, we are ensuring that the omega-3 fatty acids remain balanced within the horse's diet. 

    As mentioned above, linseed has a large amount of omega-3s, and part of omega-3s functions is to reduce inflammation within the horses body. So, if your horse is experiencing any skin or coat issues, such as sweet itch, or has arthritis, then linseed may be a beneficial inclusion within their diet. 

    If you have ever boiled linseeds, you will have noticed that it swells and a gel like substance is produced. This is called mucilage, a soluable fibre. Horses don't have the enzymes to digest mucilage, but it is so beneficial to the hindgut bacteria, and can be particularly beneficial for horses experiencing chronic digestive problems.

    Linseed isn't just an omega-3 powerhouse; it also contains protein about 18% and fat at 42%. So it is actually great for horses that are needing to gain a little bit of weight or need extra protein or energy within their diets.

    Now that we know all of the benefits of linseed - how do we know it is safe to feed?

    There has been some talk about linseed being poisonous to horses in its raw form as they contain cyanide. Whilst it is true that linseeds are cyanogenic, the acidic nature of a horse's stomach destroys the possibility of large amounts of cyanide being produced. If you need more comfort, a study published by the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research in 2002 fed 1 lb or flaxseed per 1000 lb of bodyweight over a period of 42 days with no negative side effects being reported. So, it is safe to feed linseed to your horse without it being boiled first!

    So, the best way then to feed linseed it by grinding the whole seed just before feeding it to your horse. Many people use a coffee grinder to do this. It is important though to grind the whole linseeds just before feeding it, as if you leave it out on the counter, then it does have the possibility to turn rancid. This method of feeding linseed does seem to be the best as it ensures that your horse is receiving the full omega-3 benefits. 

    You can however opt to boil your linseed. This method is absolutely ok, but it may deplete the omega-3 fatty acids, which is not so great! Some people also choose to feed linseed whole, but these will pass straight through the horse undigested.

    One thing though that is absolutely NOT recommended is soaking the linseeds. The reason being is that there is potential that whilst being soaked, linseeds may produce hydrogen cyanide. So, grind whole or boil is definitely the way to go if feeding whole linseed!

    There are other ways to get the benefits of linseed into your horse, and that of course is via linseed oil. Linseed oil is a fantastic additive to your horse's diet, but keep in mind, you may lose some of the nutritional benefits such as the fibre and protein. The other disadvantage is, is that linseed oil may cost more than whole flax seeds.

    At Oakford Stockfeeds, we stock whole linseeds as well as CEN Oil and Animal Health Solutions Raw Linseed Oil.

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