My experiment with oats and a rant against the feed companies (UPDATE)

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You are onto something Marty. I started feeding oats this year because the price of pellets is too dang high. I used to feed patriot pellets, and maintained my horses well on those. I moved out here and its too far from the farmers co-op, so my choices are tractor supply and agway. We have such little grass pasture that I have been sending the horses to "grandma's" house every summer. Now I feed nutrena, but it is as if to prevent colic everything is sold predigested, and I have not been able to get that luster and finish on the horses as in years past. I think they have developed it so that you have to buy and put into your horses twice as much feed, and at $16-$20 per bag we're getting fleeced. I'm with you, though, keep it simple. I'd rather buy a white bag of oats than a $20 50# of filler in a fancy printed bag.
I've fed mainly hay to all my horses for as long as I've owned them. Once in a great while I will add "extras" on an as need basis. I think a lot of the problems that are now extremly common in our horses stems from too much of a good thing.

In the winter my old guys may get some senior feed depending upon their condition. I've had broodmares that get hay with mare/foal vitamins and nothing else. Our attack survivor got free choice burmuda hay, alfalfa twice a day and about a cup of grain with red cell added so that his meds would stick to the grain. He's back to hay only. If my guys are working hard, they get a little grain as a reward. Wild horses are world class athletes that subsist on whatever they find and do very well without all the "extras".
Nutrition CAN be a science.
Nutrition IS science. I totally agree with your post. While some horses can look fine with just oats and forage, it does take more than that to create a performing athlete. How do you even know what % nutrients your horse is getting? That's why it takes a Masters or doctorate degree in animal nutrition to formulate feeds professionally. That's just my opinion, do whatever works best for your horse and your budget.

As my Nutrition of Domestic Animals professor always said " Nutrition is a science, feeding is an art. "
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Nutrition is a science. There are whole fields of research out there on the different areas of nutrition - even how different nutrients effect the system on the gene level. It can be very complicated if you wish it to be, but just because it can be, it does not have to be for the average horse owner.

One thing science has shown is that the horse's digestive system is best set up for digesting forage and high fiber diets. Small amount continuously through the day. Another thing science knows is that hay tends to lose fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E) so if you are feeding that as your main forage source, you should have a vitamin or other food source that supplements those added to the feed.

Over the years I've taken on some extremely thin horses and brought them back to good health. In fact, I'm working on a mini right now. I keep is simple. A free-choice grass hay, soaked alfalfa pellets (slowly introduced to the diet and how much they get is based on weight), a vitamin/mineral supplement, and then a slow introduction to pasture to eventually convert them from a hay diet to a pasture-based diet if the season is right. Slow changes, but otherwise the diet is very simple. No grains. No commercial feeds other than the vitamin/mineral supplement I usually get in pelleted form just for ease of use. If I do have a horse that needs "something more" I will get a fat-based addition for their diet rather than sugar/startch/grain-based.

My horses are not high-performance horses, and there are many ways to get a healthy horse - just like we do not need to eat the same exact foods to still be in great health. But I do tend to agree that people grab sugary sweet feeds more for their "feel good" results rather than real horse needs.
Grass. Horses do best on grass. That is truly our missing link here. I keep telling lovey that we need to pasture in the rest of the property. And minis who get accustomed to grass pasture only need a mineral block. (They also need a workout routine.) Winter is much trickier, but to really prevent colic - hay. It is trickier to maintain an athlete. With the rich, man made feeds and supplements, and being stabled much more than turned out, it can lead to problems. I worked at a large boarding barn and have seen it firsthand. Much greater risk of colic and laminitis.
Nutrition may well be a science BUT it is not "Rocket Science" It is not the hard to work out sciencey secret thing that feed companies would have you believe. Anyone with half a brain can work out a balanced diet for their horse without recourse to all these fancy and expensive bagged feeds that people give them, often drenched in molasses (most pellets have molasses btw, to hold them together, so you need to sit down and read the ingredients list!! there is a website somewhere out there that does it all for you) I use Barley as a base because I have always used it- I use crushed not whole because a lot of whole cereals go straight through as the horse cannot adequately digest the cellulose cell wall- that is the origin of crushing or crimping cereals, but that is personal choice- Oats has a higher fibre ration than barley but I use a lot of hay chaff. My horses are showing and they are popping out of their skins they are so healthy! Grass is, of course, by far and away the very best feed of all- GOOD grass, that is.....again, it does need checking. My brood mares have only grass, they are not fed grain of any kind once the grass is through and they do not need it (GOSH they do not need it- they look as if they are about tho give birth and they have only just done so) If you want to go on feeding bagged feed, that is fine, some of it is really OK and it is very convenient, but you do not have to do this in order to have a healthy horse.
What are most of you feeding very old horses with no back teeth? Besides soaked beet pulp. I have to buy the expensive bag of senior feed, well soaked so they won't choke, which I have had happen when feeding hay (!)
Marty, I smile at your view on feeding... I have always kept my feed program VERY simple. I have never purchased additives, balancers, vitamins and all the other ridiculous foofoo products they have out there- and now a lot of things are made with soy, which is genetically modified and that's a BIG no no in my book. My horses are on a regular health program, including an annual dental checkup and they get hay, two options of salt, the broodmares get grain and fresh water. The only thing 'formulated' I have ever fed is the Equine Jr or Sr along with the items listed above. My horses have done well while working and in the show ring both. The foals are born strong and healthy. Sometimes the KISS method is the best.

Old horse with no teeth- I had an old mare like this and she was a very slow eater. She was free fed Purina Equine Sr as it's a complete feed and it took her all day to eat her food. She did GREAT on it.
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So glad to hear that there are lots of oats lovers out there too. I feed it because that's what my dad did and my grandfather and everybody did. And I suppose also because that is what we can grow. In the spring the old boys would throw in a little flax to slick them off. Also I like to hear the sound of oats when they eat it. I think that to much stuff that melts in their mouths doesn't wear their teeth right. Horses have to chew.

Oats can be tricky when you raise it. Sometimes we have very heavy oats and some time very light. I like light because then I can give them more.

We used to feed a lot of barley to the feeder calves and man was that good beef, but you can literately founder a calf, it is so hot.And I have seen horses that have gotten into a barley bin bloat and never recover. Of course they could do that by overeating anything I guess. I have never dared feed barley to the horses. But I think iv you were careful it would work too.

Oh, also if there is something wrong with their teeth, it is easy to spot as they will dribble the oats out, where if it is some kind of prepared stuff they will just hold it there and swallow.
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Some of my old gals, closer to the shetland/welsh breeding do really great just on oats and hay and a couple of them don't even get the oats, but they are in their late teens/early 20's now and their metabolisms just aren't what they used to be. The majority over 4 yrs get oats, free choice hay (pasture in summer), and a ration balancer because our hay is low in protein. I do have quite a few who need more though or they just will not keep their weight. 1/2 of my stallions, about 1/4 of my mares, and of course all of the younguns also get sweet feed along with beet pulp. Everything is weighed so nothing is wasted and I like Safe Choice now better than any of the Purina products. If I could do just hay, oats, and a ration balancer for everyone, it would be wonderful, but unfortunately it just doesn't work that way. I do agree, there are people who tend to go a bit overboard, but I have been seeing so many malnourished horses on fb lately that I don't want to have someone stop something that's working and not notice their horse go downhill. Off tangent, but why is it that "big horse" people just can not see when a miniature horse is severely underweight and in need of more nourishment? I will always pipe up when someone posts a picture on fb asking for a critique and their horse desperately needs food, but will have about 50 big horse people jump all over me for it. Just incredulous, and the problem seems to be rising.
ohmt I wonder if it's because some 'big horse people' who have never been around Minis dont REALLY know what one should look like?
Sometimes it is because they have been warned to not feed too much or the mini will founder--abd so they are afraid to feed ENOUGH. They might know the mini is too thin but they don't dare feed more...or else it simply doesn't occur to them to FEEL the little horse. With big horses you can generally see thin; with a furry little mini you have to feel for body condition.
I'm the other way, why can't people see all the fat rolls and pockets on their obese, soon to be foundered minis?? Makes me even sicker then seeing a ribby one.
That could be, Laurie and Holly. Most of what I see are minis with the big bellies, and visually very protruding hip and spine. I will usually chime in and let them know (I try nicely!) that an increase in protein and calories would be extremely beneficial as the horse is very underweight, and then the flack comes. I'll keep on truckin, I just find it alarming that so many people seem to be completely blind to it.

I honestly see way more malnourished horses than fat ones, though one can be just as fatal as the other.
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I'm the other way, why can't people see all the fat rolls and pockets on their obese, soon to be foundered minis??
Completely agree on that one. I know a pony that is very fat, kept telling the owners he needed to lose a lot of weight/thyroid problem etc, but they thought he looked fine. The vet told them he's a 9/9 BCS---uhhh....... told you so (but I was polite enough to hold my tongue).
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I agree that too fat is terrible too. But, for me it won't be the oats that will cause me trouble. It will be the lush pasture grass with all these open mares. This not breeding so many is going to be harder to manage. I will have to watch them very carefully and perhaps not let them graze 24 hours a day.

Perhaps run them on pasture after the cows come off.
I am glad this was brought up. This has made me change back to rolled oats and a supplement!

I am glad this was brought up. This has made me change back to rolled oats and a supplement!

I am glad this was brought up. This has made me change back to rolled oats and a supplement!

I am glad this was brought up. This has made me change back to rolled oats and a supplement!

I am glad this was brought up. This has made me change back to rolled oats and a supplement!

I am glad this was brought up. This has made me change back to rolled oats and a supplement!
What are most of you feeding very old horses with no back teeth? Besides soaked beet pulp. I have to buy the expensive bag of senior feed, well soaked so they won't choke, which I have had happen when feeding hay (!)
Have you looked into hay pellets? You can soak them and they will be nice and soft for the older horse. I would probably do a mixture of timothy &alfalfa pellets and a vit./mineral supplement to round out the nutrients and see how they do with that.
As with humans, I don't think you can make huge, sweeping disclaimers about one feed program or another without evaluating the individual horse.

While I agree that a non-working "pet" horse of most breeds can get by without grain (concentrates) and subsist on hay only... That might not be the route to go for a Grand Prix dressage Hanoverian in intensive training.

Nutrition CAN be a science. You can break feed down in to calories, fats, fibers, vitamins and everything in between. It very well may be possible that the available hay in your area might lack in protein or something.

When we make blanket statements like "I'm feeding just plain oats and my horses are fine..." Does this mean you're feeding a negligible amount per day such as a cup or are you feeding a substantial caloric amount such as four pounds?

Personally I don't mind "feed from a bag" because it is formulated for my horses that get zero pasture and do moderate work to make sure they are converting calories into muscle... You can contact the companies' nutritionists and they can take your hay analysis and their feed analysis and help you maximize your horses' performance.

But sure, if you've got pets standing around they will look relatively healthy if most of their basic needs are met. Most Americans can get by eating fast food and can live normal, healthy lives. But I'm guessing people who are heavy into athletics or need to watch their appearances like actors can't get by with the same food choices. Many of them will choose supplements and such for the convenience of making sure their dietary needs are met after going to the gym regularly.

By the way, my horse gets far, far more regular exercise and attention to diet than myself... Isn't that the case?

Well said! Sure your pet horse who does light work can live fine with hay and a supplement. For you all who mix your own grains, it is not reasonable to say that you are certain that you are feeding a balanced diet and criticize the feed manufacturers that spend millions of dollars researching this. I went to the Purina Animal Nutrition Center Facility in Missouri for education for work, and it was incredible the amount of detailed research they are doing. They are looking at every aspect of equine nutrition to an extent that I don't think any company has gone before. They have a 1,000+ acre facility with groups of horses that are on various feed programs and studied for their endurance and reproduction capabilities, body condition, and even their taste preferences! Whoever says that "all" horses only need oats and hay, have never had the opportunity to see the difference different feeds can make to a horse that is either a hard keeper, that has special needs, is in hard work, or just does not maintain a healthy appearance on hay and a handful of oats. I guess they are lucky that way! I love easy keepers!

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