Equine Nutrition FAQ’s – Miscellaneous

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Why don't you mention any other feed brands by name except Integrity?

It’s all about being fair. If my thoughts are not supportive of what is being fed, they are my professional thoughts and thus would not be fair to identify a product that has an unfavorable opinion; more importantly it’s not who I am. We at Star Milling appreciate and welcome competition and the company’s goal is to market on the merits of Star’s products. Negative marketing is never an approach or consideration.

Integrity was formulated and developed based on my experiences/philosophy as a scientist, Professor, and years as a horseman. The goal with feeding any animal (except for the giant panda) is based on gut design. Gut design is fundamental in determining what is fed and also is the guide in feeding relative to the energetic/nutritional demands (pregnancy, lactation, growth, work). Horses provide recreation and thus their activity levels have always been a popular issue relative to how to feed. The good news is there is more information and options with feeding when compared to the time period when I was a young rider, which has been awhile!

I have a 20-year-old semi-retired paint gelding who recently developed some interesting nonpainful bony enlargements on his face (see attached photos). He has no history of trauma and otherwise seems fine - no soreness beyond the usual for an old horse who worked hard in his youth. I had never seen anything like this and neither had his equine veterinarian. I shared his photos with a friend, who is convinced that this is nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, what they call "big head disease," due to calcium binding by the oxalates in the bermuda grass hay that is this horse's main ration. He also eats a small amount (about 1.5#) of your Integrity pellets daily along with “hoof” and “ ”coat/weight gain” supplements. He is not on pasture. Is this even a possibility in Southern California? The boarding stable buys its hay from the Imperial Valley and I have no control over what they purchase. I was considering adding some alfalfa to his diet to try to increase the availability of calcium. What would you suggest? Thanks.

Interesting! Oxalates, chelate of Ca, and phytates, chelate of P, are present in all forages and more so in more mature forages; west coast grass forages are almost always on the mature spectrum. My first impression is that the diet is not the issue. Not sure which Integrity product you are using since 2 of the products are pellet form and one rice bran product is extruded; nevertheless all Integrity products are balanced for Ca and P. The supplements you referenced also add more Ca than P. I doubt if the Bermuda grass hay is an issue but the only way to confirm is to have an analysis. Of course considering age, diet, etc. of other horses in the stable should be part of the evaluation.

My encouragement is to seek a board certified DVM at UCD whose specializes in endocrinology. The parathyroid hormone (PTH) responsibility is to regulate blood Ca levels. High levels of PTH suggest low Ca levels; granted lower Ca levels may also be magnified by elevated P blood levels which would stimulated PTH secretion. If the body recognizes low blood Ca then PTH will stimulate Ca removal from the bone if needed. Why facial bone lesion are only visible I cannot immediately explain but a clinical endocrinologist will be more helpful if secondary hyperthyroidism is a consideration.

Have you had Ca and PTH levels tested? My understanding is that secondary hyperthyroidism is NOT associated with high/elevated blood Ca levels but CAN be associated with high levels of PTH. Kidney failure can also be a cause for secondary hyperthyroidism so has there been a blood panel check, serum creatinine, ACR, GFR, etc? I am a PhD not a DVM so you will need to visit with a clinician with the appropriate expertise. Poor absorption of Ca can also be an issue but as indicated the diet does not suggest Ca availability being the issue. These are just my initial thoughts as a professor and general endocrinology understanding.

Granted feeding alfalfa as portion of the forage diet will provide additional Ca but I would encourage you to explore the clinical evaluation before a dietary trial & error approach.

We have a 2 year old mini that we've had allergy tested due to chronic respiratory issues that began in February. After not responding to medical treatments we opted for testing. It turns out he is allergic to soy, oats, corn, alfalfa, Timothy, beets and borderline for rice and barley. We are at a loss as to what we can feed him besides orchard hay because it seems all horse feeds have these ingredients. Any suggestions on a safe feed? This isn't the first horse we've had with allergies to feed. It’s very frustrating that there are no products for horses with these issues. Testing was done by bloodwork. However, once he was pulled off all his feed, except Orchard hay, his symptoms have cleared.

The ingredients listed are common feedstuffs for balanced formulations in the horse industry. Based on your ingredient limitations, none of the Integrity formulations would work. Integrity formulations do not contain corn, barley nor alfalfa, however they do contain some combination of soybean meal, beet pulp, oat hay, rice bran, oats and timothy hay. Skin testing is the most dependable method of testing for symptomatic allergies for antigen-immunoglobulin interactions. The literature is not supportive of blood testing as a symptomatic response diagnostic tool to determine allergies.

I have a horse who is allergic to alfalfa, barley, and rice bran, but not molasses, sugar, or beet pulp. I am looking for something that I can use as a carrier for supplements, so he wouldn’t be getting much. How much rice bran is in your Integrity Adult/Senior and Lite? He is somewhat meh about O&M.

Rice bran is the 8th ingredient on the ingredient panel in Integrity Lite (fat content 6%) and the 4th ingredient in Adult/Senior (7.3% fat) and is a major source of healthy fat in balanced formulas.

Were the food allergies established via a blood test or skin test? Obviously I do not know your horse’s history, but through my experience food allergies are not common in horses. Blood tests are measuring the level of immunoglobulin E in the blood; this blood antigen-antibody response does not directly translate into a symptomatic response which is why I do not consider blood tests as a dependable form of testing for food allergies. Skin tests, which are very expensive, measure a symptomatic response and are recommended by experts in dermatology in combination with symptoms and history.

Assuming the meds are a dry powder or pellet form, then any hay pellet should work. If your horse is selective then it may require crushing the hay pellet for a mixture and sprinkling a small amount of brown sugar to disguise the taste of the meds.

Any thoughts on a horse getting hives after starting on the Adult/Senior without molasses? It is a new rescue horse, so we don’t know their history.

The key word here is “new”: new environment, exposure to hidden molds/antigens, limited acclimation, exposure to soap chemicals, and exposure to contaminated brushes would be among my first thoughts. Food would be my last.

Food allergies in horses are rare. In 40+ years, I have only known of one suspect which was still not confirmed. The food allergies experienced by humans and some pets has dragged the companion horses into the conversation. Having a skin test by an expert in dermatology is the most dependable standard to determine symptomatic responses to antigen-immunoglobulin interactions.

I am currently feeding my horse a combination of Integrity Rice Bran and Adult/Senior. She is a very hard keeper, but seems to be gaining weight with this combination. We have recently begun to suspect that she may have EPSM. Would these products be suitable for an EPSM diet? Are there any other Integrity products that I should be looking at? She is in moderate work and is 11 years old.

I would need to know how much Integrity Adult/Senior and Rice Bran are being fed as well as the type and amounts of hay. Often there is so much attention on the sugar/starch content in balanced formulas when only small amounts are being fed, while hay – the largest portion of the horse’s food – is usually the major contributor of sugars and starches.

Integrity Adult/Senior is a low sugar/starch formula. Rice Bran is high starch containing feedstuff with approximately 17% sugars. Check out the Integrity brochure for the ESC and starches in each of the feeds.

You can use liquid oil for the added fat source to the Adult/Senior but the bottom line is how much is being fed is important to know whether sugar/starch content is relative.

My horse was diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) a year ago so I switched from Integrity Adult/Senior to Integrity Lite without Molasses. Do you sell a feed that is specifically for Equine Metabolic Syndrome? He also has laminitis now. I was told that he should only have hay until this hopefully clears up but that it’s okay to feed a ration balancer with it. Do you make such a feed?

Horses diagnosed with EMS complicated by acute laminitis, assuming no rotation of the coffin bone, should be fed a predominately grass hay diet during the recovery phase. During recovery I would suggest staying with just the hay diet and you can add a generic vitamin/mineral supplement – but feed only half of what is recommended.

Integrity Lite No Molasses is a low starch/sugar formula and would be ok to feed once your horse is no longer in the acute phase of the disease. Interesting that I received your question now because I’m preparing for a talk for Scottsdale, AZ that will address the Balancer type products. These types of products are highly concentrated in protein, calcium, phosphorus and other selective nutrients. This type of bolus feeding is NOT one I embrace nor would recommend because the concentrated nutrients distort the critical nutrient to calorie ratios. Although these type of balancer products recommend adding rice bran, alfalfa, oats or beet pulp as energy sources, these feedstuffs do NOT have much in common with energy or nutrient composition thus further distorting the important nutrient-calorie ratio requirements of horses.

Our Pony is eating other horses’ poop. We have her on vitamins and probiotics and she has a mineral salt lick and a porta grazer to slow down her eating. She is obnoxious about it and diving into the poop. Any suggestions?

Here is a link to fact sheet on eating feces in Dr Bray’s Corner which provides the facts and myths of coprophagy. Be sure there is adequate fiber provided by long stem grass hay. If your pony is consuming hay quickly or pushed off by paddock mates your only choice is to isolate him from the group. It’s rare for a horse to eat their own, but if so, you may want to distributed the hay feeding stations to force movement and slow the rate of hay consumption. That’s more of a long shot.

Coprophagy is not a nutritional deficiency but is behavioral. Some have suggested that the condition is similar to compulsive disorders.

Our pony is eating other horses poop. We have her on vitamins and probiotics, and she has a mineral salt lick and porta grazer to slow down her eating. She is obnoxious about it and diving into the poop. Any suggestions?

Be sure there is adequate fiber provided by long stem grass hay. If your pony is consuming hay quickly or pushed off by paddock mates, then your only choice is to isolate him from the group.

Coprophagy is behavioral and not a nutritional deficiency. Some have suggested that the condition is similar to compulsive disorders. I suggest reading the fact sheet on eating feces in Dr Bray’s Corner which provides the facts and myths of coprophagy.

My old gelding quids when he is fed alfalfa hay and I worry he will choke. He seems ok with hay pellets that have been soaked. What can I feed?

Quidding is usually associated with dental issues such as sharp molar points, gum inflammation, abscesses, loose teeth, etc. The soaked hay softens the food to relive some of the discomfort during chewing. You need to have your veterinarian examine your horse’s mouth. Once your horse has been more precisely diagnosed, your vet will be able to make the appropriate feeding recommendations.

During Christmas I have always treated my horses with peppermint candy. Do I need to worry about the sugar and problems with insulin resistance?

No. A peppermint candy as a treat is not an issue. As with any treat, there should always be limits particularly to ensure not promoting aggressive behavior. The quarter horse, Jody Grey, that I rode in my early childhood loved peppermints, especially around the holidays when they were more prevalent. However, when I was not paying attention cleaning his stall or standing next to him he would muzzle his way into my jacket’s kangaroo side pockets looking for that treat. Cute at first, but could be a nuisance over time.

Typical bite size peppermints are about two-thirds sugar which is a non-issue relative to the body weight of an adult horse and relative to the sugar and starch content of a typical diet.

What are the chances of my yearling developing epiphysitis because of feeding Integrity Performance vs Growth? It seems based off of the tags most ingredients are less on the Performance except for fat which is higher. He currently is getting alfalfa.

Does your horse’s heritage have a history of any developmental orthopedic diseases (DOD) such as epiphysitis?

Genetic predisposition is the basis of most DODs. Nutrition does not cause them either, but poor nutrition or intense work can magnify the disease symptoms. Feeding a balanced diet to complement the forage portion of the diet is critical, with moderate work, will reduce the risks if a horse is predisposed to DOD.

Quick tips:

  • Alfalfa should not exceed 50% of the total forage intake.
  • Do not overfeed.
  • Allow the colt to grow at a modest rate.
  • Also do not push the exercise intensity.
  • No round pen work.
  • Work on long line linearly along fence line.
  • Challenges are caused by pushing young horses nutritionally and trying to have them grow at a faster rate than their genetic potential.
How can I prevent thrush when it rains?

Thrush prospers when horses are exposed to dirty or unsanitary conditions. Bacteria are actually responsible for tearing down the soft tissue of the hoof that is known as thrush. This type of bacteria requires very little or no oxygen to survive. The decomposing tissue along with manure, urine, and dirt forms that black, somewhat pasty discharge and disgusting odor.

The bacteria do require a moist environment, but the rain is not the problem. Manure, urine, mud, and even general debris in the stable area are the issue. Once that stuff gets packed in the hoof then the bacteria will go to work.

If you do not observe any evidence of thrush until there is moisture then you may need to proactively manage the living conditions using the tips below.

  • Remove manure and urine from the stall and paddock daily
  • Ensure that the stalls and paddocks have adequate drainage so that there is no standing liquid (such as manure and urine soup) for bacteria to feed off
  • Clear the 3 grooves (sulci) of the hoof with a hoof-pick daily. Use a hard bristle brush, if necessary. Dish washing soap in water has an antibacterial agent and is good to include.
  • Over-grown hooves, pads, and shoes not routinely changed/reset along with inadequate exercise can contribute to the problem. Blood circulation to and from the lower extremities of the legs is dependent on the horse moving, so exercise is important for healthy feet.
  • Hydrogen peroxide and copper sulfate are common applications for light to moderate thrush conditions. Severe conditions may require an evaluation and treatment from a veterinarian.
Since the weather is colder and my horse can’t get out as much due to the rain, are there any natural calming agents you suggest?

No, but I will encourage consistency and routine each day. Horses are creatures of habit and consistency is a major contributor to attitude.

Consistency in feeding times, feeding amounts, what is fed, type and amount of long stem forage fed, feeding a balanced diet, daily routine including turnout, stable mate, exercise routine, and a clean environment are a few management practices to consider.

There are a plethora of products that claim to have a calming effect but ALL the over-the-counter products I have seen are based on testimonials and not supported by credible science. They simply do not pass the fundamental question of scientists: “Does this make biological sense?”

What is the difference between organic and non-GMO feed?

Feed labeled “organic” must meet very specific requirements. Organic plants are required to be grown with natural fertilizers and without pesticides or hormones, among other things. Livestock that is organic must be fed organic feed and not be given animal byproducts, antibiotics or hormones.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) have had their DNA altered to increase resistance to herbicides, improve nutritional content, or a variety of other reasons. Most GMO foods are plants such as corn, canola or soybean. Non-GMO feed is made by grains that have not been genetically altered, but may have been treated with pesticides.

Non-GMO Feed is not necessarily organic, but organic feed is always non-GMO.

What do you recommend as a horse treat?

My first response to this question was none… but then I reflected on my own experiences and yes, I have fed horses treats—just not commercial ones. There is an advantage to offering a treat; there is a bonding factor as well as the benefit of a reward for some training response. Of course, there is that feel good sensation.

When I was a kid, peppermint candy—particularly leftovers from Christmas—were used as a treat for the horses. I worked with a horse named Jody Grey during my youth who would reach into my coat’s kangaroo pocket looking for that peppermint candy when I arrived at the barn. I must admit it was fun (though at times a nuisance because he never gave up). Another good treat experience was during my packing/wild horse tracking research and outreach programs at the university; I used my lunch leftovers of orange peels and apple cores as a treat for the horses that I rode.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t spend the money on commercial treats. Cut orange peels into half dollar size or share an apple.

Hay is so expensive I asked my feed store if there were any other options. They tried to sell me hay pellets but I worry about my horse choking. I have heard horrid stories about pellets. What do you think and are there any other options for hay?

Horse owners have frequently shared their concerns about horses choking on pellets but through conversations I’ve found that very, very few have actually had a horse choke. Assuming there are no structural problems or lesions within the esophagus and oral cavity, and assuming that a horse exhibits “typical” eating behavior, a horse is not prone to choke on pellets any more than any other feed form. However, a horse that bolts his feed, senses competition from other horses (even those in the next stall), is generally nervous, or is an aggressive eater, may need to be managed differently during feeding. That’s not a problem with the feed but an issue with nutritional management of the horse.

Nutritional management with feed bolters and other horses mentioned above may include using a feed container that is wide and shallow, feeding the horse more frequently in smaller amounts or placing large, irregular shaped stones (not boulders or rocks) in the feeding area that force the horse to navigate around the stones to procure feed. The stones you use must be large enough that they cannot be mouthed or picked up by the horse. The goal is to slow down the amount of feed consumed per mouthful.

Another option is to soften the feed by adding water and mixing to an oatmeal consistency. The term gruel is used to describe this form. I’ve had responsibility for a lot of horses over the years and have never had a horse choke on my watch. Identifying horses that are at risk for choking due to unusual behaviors or their position in the pecking order, and managing their nutrition will go a long way toward reducing concerns with choke.

What is extruded feed?

Extrusion is a process in which feed is ground, quickly cooked at a high temperature, and processed under high pressure. The feed is then pushed through a die, which makes the feed a unique and uniform shape. The main benefit of extruded feed is improved digestibility.

The difference between pelleted and extruded feed is that pellets are not cooked, and are prepared at a much lower temperature and pressure.

For raw feed ingredients—specifically grains such as corn, oats and barley—both pelleting and extrusion can improve the digestibility. The amount of grains in a formula is also a factor in determining if extrusion is beneficial to the overall digestibility.

While extrusion can be very beneficial, the nutritional value of a feed is more dependent on the formula than the type of processing.

What does the Guaranteed Analysis (GA) tell me?

Required by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the Guaranteed Analysis provides a product’s nutritional content. This valuable information assists pet owners, retailers, and veterinarians with making decisions about product selection and feeding amounts.

Star Milling uses Alltech’s products for both prebiotic and probiotic microorganisms.

I feed my horse carrots and apples 3 times a week? Is that too much?

Carrots and apples are about 90% water. For comparison the primary feeds that are fed to horses, including baled hays, feed mixes and hay pellets, contain approximately 10% water. You did not indicate how many of each are fed but if you are like most horse owners the amounts fed vary from a couple to several.

Bottom line: no worries! I view carrot and apples as treats and an opportunity to bond with your horse. I hear the stories about too much carotene, too much sugar, and horses becoming to aggressive and nipping. The water content of the carrot and apples and the amounts fed make these treats a non-factor relative to nutrition. When I was a kid I would have a peppermint in a work coat with an oversize side pocket. Jody-Grey was the gelding I rode (big ol’ quarter horse) and he would go into that pocket to recover the peppermint. He was conditioned to only look once and only when I turned to him with the pocket side containing the peppermint. I did not always have a sweet for him and if I did not turn for him to look he knew the pocket was empty. He never nipped because of the conditioning he received..

I own a Kiger mustang that was caught in the wild about 6 years ago. We think she is about 10 years old. She is stall bound during the winter along with my other horses, although she does get exercised twice daily in the indoor arena. She has been lethargic lately and doesn’t want to exercise. Instead she wants to snack on the gelding's droppings. I understand she is bored, so I sometimes give her a pine bough which she loves to chew on. Is it ok to give her the pine boughs, and do you suggest that I give her additional grain which would be a 'complete' feed, along with her commercial supplement? My concern is over doing the grain and causing laminitis.
There is a fact sheet in Dr. Bray’s Corner on coprophagy titled “Is Your Horse Eating Feces?“. Coprophagy is common to many animals including horses and is a natural exploration by all equids. The primary benefit is inoculating the gut with bacteria that are necessary for hindgut digestion in the herbivore gut. I do not associate the behavior with a nutritional deficiency unless the horse is in poor body condition, losing weight, and clearly lacks the daily groceries to sustain them. Did you have an opportunity to read the fact sheet? I have listed a few facts from the fact sheet that may be helpful.

  • Coprophagy is observed more frequently with confined horses when compared to pasture horses.
  • For adult horses that appear obsessive with the behavior, the addition of fiber by adding roughages to the diet appears to reduce the frequency of the behavior.
  • Exercise appears to reduce the incident of coprophagy in adult horses.
  • There has been work from a university suggesting an odor from the feces of the mare may attract the foal to the feces.

Coprophagy is sometimes confused with the term Pica. Pica is the eating of non-foods such as dirt, sand, bark, twigs, etc. Pine bough as a chew is a new one for me, and I have reservations with that approach.

You did not indicate the estimated body weight of your Kiger mustang mare. Assuming she is around 14.2 hands and 900 – 950 lbs. than the hay amount would be 1.5% of body weight or 14 1/4 lbs. per day. You stated that the hay quality was low. You may also want to improve the quality of hay. I would also suggest providing 1 1/2 lbs. of a balance concentrate (16.0% crude fiber, 6.5% crude fat, 13.0% crude protein, & low starch) with an ingredient panel similar to our Integrity Adult/Senior (beet pulp, soy hulls, rice bran & soybean meal). Our distribution of products is not in Oregon so you will need to consider a feed similar to the Integrity Adult/Senior.

Do the sprayed applications during the growth phase of beet pulp remain on the pulp of sugar beets after processing? Is beet pulp safe?
The half-life of a pesticide product will vary depending on the active ingredient but I am not aware of any nutritional or health issues that raise concerns relative to spray products used with sugar beets or beet pulp production. I also do not have any concerns with using beet pulp as a feedstuff in animal products.
Do you know of a lab that I could send a sample of Alfalfa/Orchard Grass Cubes and Orchard Grass Hay to get analyzed? Is it expensive? I am curious about the selenium (Se) levels, as I understand it can vary significantly (from very high to very low) depending on where it is grown. Thanks again for being so accessible!

We use a couple, Equi Analytical is good one. Unless you have purchased hay for 6 months feeding, having the hay analyzed will be expensive and may not be of value.

I understand your concern with Se, however issues with Se content that would raise a red flag are not evident based on your comments. Most feedstuffs contain 0.01 – 0.06 ppm Se; alkaline soils tend to have higher Se levels. A horse’s requirement is estimated at 0.1 ppm for the total ration but that is considered the minimum amount to prevent deficiencies. Most commercial balanced formulas, which are a small portion of the total diet, are at 0.3 – 0.5 ppm to compensate for the Se levels in forages that are less than the 0.1 ppm minimum requirement. You can view the Se levels for each Integrity product on the Integrity brochure.

If I can help you navigate through what to feed let me know.