Cereal grains are an important ingredient in traditional horse feeds. A typical sweet feed, for example, might contain a medley of grains such as oats, corn, and barley.
The grains fed to horses are actual seeds from cereal plants. These seeds are the nutrient storehouses for the germ, from which a new plant would emerge if planted. The seeds are wrapped in a coat, and this coat is removed during milling and from then forward considered bran. Wheat bran was once a popular feed for horses, though its use seems to be waning. Inclusion of rice bran in horse diets, however, is on the upswing.
What is the rationale behind feeding these to horses?
Energy density. Grains usually contain about 50% more energy than good-quality hay, which makes them ideal feedstuffs for horses with elevated energy requirements such as hard-working horses, late-gestation mares, and lactating mares.
Source of starch. Though it has received a fair amount of negative press lately, starch is an important energy source for many horses, particularly growing horses and certain equine athletes.
Palatability. Horses generally prefer grains to forage and will typically consume all available grain before moving on to forage.
A few studies have been conducted to determine feed preferences among horses. In those studies, the most to least preferred feed or feedstuff was a mixed-grain sweet feed, oats, cracked corn, whole corn, wheat, barley, and rye. Feed preferences among horses, though, are just as varied as they are among humans. Given sufficient acclimation time, most horses will eventually consume all grains readily.
For many horses, cereal grains are the easiest and most palatable way to provide supplemental energy.
This article is reproduced with the permission of Kentucky Equine Research.