Molasses: How much did you say?
Ask Dr. Bray a Question
Nutritionally, molasses does not bring very much value when formulating a horse feed. Sweet feeds (concentrates that have added molasses) may contain as much as 12% molasses, most are less than 10%. Forages mixed with molasses such as A&M (alfalfa & molasses) and O&M (oat hay & molasses) may be as high as 20% molasses.
Two benefits of added molasses related to feed management are:
- Molasses will bind the small particles (fines) in a feed which can minimize the small particles being aerosol during consumption as a horse exhales.
- Molasses also adds the obvious…sweetness. Horses have taste buds for sweetness like other mammals, and feeds that are bland in taste are more easily consumed with added molasses.
The concerns with molasses relative to sugar content in balanced formulas have escalated over the years. Most of the concerns are based on a misunderstanding of sugars, starches and non-structural carbohydrates in all feeds. Yes, molasses is 40% sugar; yes, molasses is common with sweet feeds; but that 40% sugar content does not translate to 40% sugar in the finished product. One also needs to consider how much of the molasses containing feed is fed. Are you feeding 1 or 2 cups or 1-2 lbs. of feed per day? Or 8-10 lbs. per day?
Another point of interest is that a horse’s diet that is only forage does contain sugars and starches. How much depends on a multitude of growing/processing factors but can be as high as 12%. There are no standards for sugar or starch content in forages and the only way of knowing is from laboratory analysis.
For Integrity products, the total sugar and starch content are posted on the website so analysis and calculations are not needed. We provide that information for you.
If you are still concerned with just molasses in a feed, let’s take a look at 4 and 1 pound of a sweet feed that contains 8% molasses and determine how much sugar is actually contributed by molasses.
- 4 lbs. feed x 0.08 (8% molasses) = 32 lb. of molasses (in the 4 lbs. of feed)
- 32 lb. of molasses x 16 oz./lb. = 5.1 oz. of molasses
- 1 oz. x 0.40 (40% sugar in molasses) = 2.04 oz. of sugar (from 8% molasses in this feed)
The horse is consuming slightly more than 2 oz. of sugar from the molasses each day of the 4 lbs. of sweet feed.
To provide a different and visual perspective:
- 2 oz. of sugar is equivalent to 4.5 level tablespoons of granulated sugar
- 5 oz. of molasses is equivalent to 6 2/3 level tablespoons of molasses
So, what if you are feeding only 1 pound of the 8% molasses feed? Then the amount would be ¼ of the calculations above.
- ½ oz. of sugar is equivalent to 1.1 level tablespoons of granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ oz. of molasses is equivalent to 1.7 level tablespoons of molasses
Do you think that’s a lot of sugar? Put the numbers in context!
We are NOT talking about us; we are referencing an animal that is 6 to 7 times our body weight and an animal that is carrying our body weight on his back during exercise. Working horses work a lot harder than most people.
A 1,000 lb. horse that is working 5–6 days per week for 1 hour/day would be fed 16 lbs. of a grass hay and 4 lbs. of a balanced formula per day. A working horse needs to be fueled for this level of activity and feeding only hay is inadequate. The major fuel sources for horses are volatile fatty acids from hind gut fermentation and fatty acids from fat and sugar/starches from glucose; fats and sugar are enzymatically digested in the foregut. Protein is not a major fuel source.
Horses need fat, sugars and starches as fuel sources. These fuel sources are readily available to fuel a working horse and are a better matrix for replacing glycogen stores at the cellular level.
It’s not as simple as “…does it contain molasses?”
There was a study in which molasses was fed with either corn or oats. The authors suggested from the results that molasses influence on blood glucose levels will depend on what other feed sources provide sugars and starches and how quickly the horse consumes the feed. This observation supports why I have always emphasized Nutritional Management.
A few questions to consider are:
- Are the major sources of dietary carbohydrates from hay or grass?
- Are their sugars & starches from grains such as corn and barley?
- What other feed ingredients are in the formula?
- Does the formula promote chewing?
- How many meals are fed daily?
- Is the feed higher in fat (since fat can have a positive effect on lowering blood glucose levels)?
In addition to nutrient requirements of horses, Integrity products are designed and formulated on nutritional management principles including:
- Containing soluble fiber sources that have a positive influence on gut health & gut movement
- Formulated to promote the horse to chew thus slowing down consumption rate and increasing buffering capacity
- Containing moderate to high levels of fat thus a positive influence on blood glucose levels
- NO corn or barley which are the highest starch & sugar grains
- Balanced for the relationship of nutrients to energy
Active horses need energy (calories) to fuel their activity and to maintain body weight. The real issues are overfeeding and lack of consistent exercise. Hopefully, the hype with molasses will be put in perspective with more attention to how is your horse nutritionally managed.