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  • October 12, 2023 3 min read

    Hey I'm Looking for a Grain-Free Feed 

    Finding the right feed for your horse, at times, can be complex, a bit like solving a Rubix cube! Some horses, particularly those that suffer from laminitis, EMS, and PSSM, must have a grain-free diet, in addition to others such as those that suffer from gastric disease or grain intolerance. Finding a grain-free feed, however, can be troublesome as some manufacturers will label a product as grain-free, even if it contains part grains, such as rice bran. In this article, we will discuss the basics of grains and their characteristics, as well as look into the benefits of grain-free products. As a bonus, at the end of the article, we will list some commonly bought grain-free feeds. 

    Understanding Grains and Their Characteristics

    Grains, such as corn, barley, and oats, are a common source of energy in many horse diets. These grains have specific characteristics that make them both beneficial and problematic:

    1. High Sugar & Starch Content: Grains are packed with sugars and starches which, when broken down in the horse’s small intestine, provide glucose as an energy source. However, if a horse consumes too much grain, the starches that aren’t digested in the small intestine move to the large intestine. Here, they ferment and produce lactic acid, disturbing the pH balance and potentially leading to conditions like laminitis and colic.
    2. Proteins: While grains do offer protein, it's not always the best quality. When feeding protein to a horse, you want to ensure it contains all the essential amino acids. However many grains such as oats, corn, and barley are low in quality protein. 

    Due to these properties, certain horses can suffer from grain-based diets, particularly those prone to laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), and those with hyperactivity issues. 

    Benefits of a Grain-Free Based Feed

    1. Digestive Health: Grain-free feeds often lead to a slower, more consistent release of energy, reducing the risk of fermentation in the large intestine. This can decrease the chances of digestive disturbances like colic or laminitis.
    2. Stable Energy Levels: Horses on a no grain-free diet often display more consistent energy levels without the highs and lows that can be seen when fed high-grain diets. This can be especially useful for performance horses or those used in therapy.
    3. Specific Needs: Horses with conditions like PSSM or EMS can significantly benefit from grain-free feeds as it helps in managing their unique nutritional needs, such as low starch and sugar.

    Alternatives to Grains

    Several grain-free feed sources offer rich nutrition for horses, and these include:

    1. Lupins: These are leguminous plants that can be a good source of protein and energy for horses. They have a lower starch content than many grains, making them safer for fermentable carbohydrate intake.
    2. Soybeans: Soy is another legume that is high in quality protein and provides an excellent amino acid profile. Additionally, full-fat soybean can be a source of energy for horses, derived mainly from its fat content.
    3. Beet Pulp: While not a legume, beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar beet industry. It's a highly digestible fibre source that offers energy without the high starch and sugar content of grains. Often, beet pulp is soaked before feeding to horses, making it a great source of hydration as well.
    4. Alfalfa: A popular legume hay, alfalfa is rich in protein, calcium, and other nutrients. However, it should be fed in moderation and balanced appropriately with other feeds, as it can be richer than grass hays.
    5. Fats and Oils: Fats provide more than double the energy of carbohydrates. Adding a controlled amount of oils, such as flaxseed oil, can meet the energy requirements of a horse without the risks associated with high starch and sugar intake.

    Grain Free Feeds 

    If you prefer to feed a commercial based feed, then the following products offer a grain-free feed*. 

    • Hygain Zero 
    • CEN Grain Free Complete Feed 
    • Pegasus Lite 
    • Benchmark Feeds Perfect Mash 
    • Johnsons Alfafa Plus 
    • Prydes EasiSport 
    • Prydes EasiFeed EasiFibre 

    *The above feeds have a low NSC content and are grain-free (do not contain any grain by products such as rice bran), but it is not an exhaustive list of grain free products available on the market. If your horse is particularly sensitive to grain, it is recommended you consult with your vet or equine nutritionist for advice. 

    While grains have been a traditional part of horse diets for a long time, a modern understanding of equine nutrition and health is guiding many towards grain-free feeds. With numerous alternatives available, it's possible to provide horses with a balanced diet that caters to their individual needs, minimizes health risks, and optimizes their performance. Before making significant changes to your horse's diet, it's always best to consult with an equine nutritionist or veterinarian to ensure their specific needs are being met.

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