Thursday, January 01, 1998


Sources of Foods

Horse feeds are evolving toward processed forms with feed companies using "least cost" ingredients and manufacturing practices. Commercial feeds may be composed of soybean meal or cleanings and fines from cracked corn (by- products) with molasses added to reduce dust and increase palatability of ingredients which would otherwise be discarded with a swish of the upper lip or one good snort, and understandably so. Sugar is as bad for horses as it is for any other species, and horses may exhibit mood swings similarly seen in humans. Time and time again horses calm rapidly after molasses-sweetened feeds are removed from the diet. Molasses also contains chemical preservatives or surfactants. Preservatives to reduce spoilage in the heat of the summer and surfactants such as propylene glycol to reduce congelation in the chill of the winter. Molasses and its baggage bring inconsistencies that we like to avoid. Pelleted feeds are used as alternatives to sweet feeds and do not cause the increase in blood sugar that is associated with feeding molasses coated grains. However, pelleted feeds bring forth other concerns. One, poor-quality grains are easily disguised in pellet form and two, many pellet binders are chemically based. The major concern lies in the quality of the grains. Grain sources are where a number of amino acids and natural occurring trace minerals are retrieved. With the methods of pelleting, even if the quality of the grains are good to begin with, many of the nutrients are lost in processing. The philosophy behind a good quality feed is to make sure you see what you are getting. Therefore the best feeds are oats, barley and corn. A combination of the three is the best providing a wide spectrum of amino acids and trace minerals. A mixture that works well consists of 45% oats (large racehorse oats or crimped oats); 30% steamed, rolled barley (the only form available in bulk); and 25% large cracked or flaked corn. However, in some areas quality of the grains may be a concern and an adjustment of the ratios may be made. Contrary to popular belief, corn generates less heat when digested as opposed to other grain sources because corn contains less fiber and more digestible energy. This makes corn an excellent summertime horse feed, particularly for the equine athlete. Of course the horse`s superior source of food is found in the back yard. Pasture need not be lush and chemically fertilized to be a nutritional benefit to horses. Excellent grazing can be obtained from pasture with herbs (weeds) mixed with grass; this combination gives the horse opportunity to select (free choice) plants other than grass for nutritional and medicinal reasons. Hay constitutes the bulk of the horse`s diet in the winter and, in some areas of the country, year round. The horse`s "fermentation vat" (cecum) needs long- stem fiber and not chopped fiber such as the form found in hay cubes. Digestion of short-stem fiber takes place primarily in the small intestine, leaving the cecum less full than it should be. Some parts of the country have access to only alfalfa hay, which is too high in protein and calcium. A variety of hay is the best. A horse was created to eat long-stem fiber for about 20 hours a day, not in two small meals of rich hay. Another source of food necessary for survival and is the foundation for any diet is water. Does your water serve its nutritional purpose? When horses are provided adequate nutrition they have fewer health problems, recover from disease faster, are more resistant to contagious illnesses, are given the opportunity to reach genetic potential and are better able to maintain physical condition.

Kendra Helfter Lax

Just in case anyone was up half the night tossing and turning over the
sugar content in molasses, I dragged out my feed processing text book
and this is what it said:

Molasses is just a syrup by-product extracted from sugar cane, sugar
beets, citrus pulp, the starch derived from corns and other grains and
as a pentose-hexose syrup left over from processing wood to wood pulp in
the paper manufacturing process.

Although the water content can vary, for commercial uses, water content
is adjusted to right around 25%. (It CAN also be dehydrated further for
special feed usages, but that`s not the stuff usually used for horses).

The sugar contents of molasses are:

Cane molasses: ~ 46%
Sugar Beet molasses: ~ 48%
Citrus molasses ~45%
starch molasses ~50%
wood molasses ~55%

So sugar beet molasses, therefore has a content that is approximately:

water 25%
sugars 48%
proteins 7%
ash (minerals) 9%
vitamins - trace
fats - .2%

This adds up to more or less 90%, but my numbers came from several
different sources, so differences in standard deviations probably
accounts for the other ten percent.

If molasses doesn`t taste all that sweet, just remember that the human
taste is accustomed to much sweeter flavors than molasses, so it`s going
to taste more bitter than it would to a horse. Also, the relatively
high mineral content can give a bitter taste, AND not all sugars
necessarily taste sweet---for example, most people wouldn`t call mashed
potatoes "sweet", but they are high in starch, which is just the plant`s
storage form of glucose. The body breaks those polysaccharides down in
digestions and shazam, simple sugars. When people talk about a "complex
carbohydrate", all that is is a long string of sugars that the digestive
system has to break down before they can be absorbed as simple sugars.
Ever chewed a mouthful of bread for a long time and noticed a slightly
sweet taste in your mouth developing? That`s because the enzymes in
human saliva start to break down the complex carbos in bread down to
simple sugars---as soon as the glucose molecule is freed from the carbo,
it tastes sweet in your mouth.

The same applies to corn (and other grains) being fed to horses---corn
is very high in starch, a soluble carbohydrate, which hits the
bloodstream as primarily glucose. So, you do the math---if you feed a
kilogram of sweet feed that is 25% corn and 5% molasses, are any "mood
swings" going to be due to the 48% sugar content in the 50 grams of
molasses you`re providing (call it 24 grams of sugar), or from the
approximately 50% sugar content of the 250 grams of corn you`re feeding
(call it about 125 grames)? Assuming I haven`t messed up my numbers
(check me, Duncan), it sure seems to me that the body is getting ten
times as much glucose in the body directly from corn than it is from
molasses. And that`s aside from the additional sugars provided from any
other grain sources, including oats and barley (their carbo content is
lower, but still significant). The body doesn`t care where the simple
carbos come from, and there`s no difference in how glucose from grain is
processed vs. glucose from molasses. It`s only the proportions in the
original feed that are different, and feeding a horse corn/oats/barley
is HARDLY removing sugars from his ration. And a good thing, too.

Susan Garlinghouse

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