Should you feed raw grains to horses?
With the rise in news stories about contaminated horse feed, some horse owners are starting to consider feeding raw, unprocessed grains to their horses instead of pellets or sweet feed. While any big change in feeding regimen should be discussed with your veterinarian, let’s look at some of the advantages, and disadvantages, to some popular raw grains.
Corn: Corn is often an affordable grain that many horsemen might already be using to supplement their sweet feed. High-starch and high-calorie, corn can create a rapid burst of energy followed by a crash — much like sugared-up kids — if it’s fed in too high a proportion. It’s also a bad idea for overweight horses, or horses with metabolic problems. But corn can be safely fed to horses in limited amounts, especially horses in hard work.
Corn can be hard to chew, so watch out for horses with dental problems. It’s also susceptible to dangerous mold, so be certain that you are buying corn that is guaranteed mold-free.
Barley: In some ways, barley is quite the opposite of corn — in the grain world, barley is your low-starch/sugar option. Because it has a hard shell, it’s best served to your horse soaked or crushed. Since pre-crushed barley rapidly loses nutritional value, most horse owners opt to soak it themselves.
Soaked barley is best mixed with a bulky feed such as beet pulp or rice bran, and you’ll want to double-check your vitamin/mineral ratios carefully. Like other grains, barley has a poor phosphorus/calcium ratio, and is missing a few other essential vitamins, such as Vitamin A, so you’ll need a good vitamin/mineral supplement.
Oats: The traditional breakfast of champions (if you’re a horse), oats continue to be a good supplement for horses with good roughage or pasture. High-fiber and moderate in sugar and starch, oats are a nice balancing feed. They lack the protein, vitamins and minerals that a growing, pregnant, or hard-working horse will need, however.
To feed whole oats, you’ll want to add a protein source — alfalfa can be a good choice — and be choosey about a vitamin/mineral supplement. And make sure you buy the right oats — racehorse oats, which have part of the hull removed, provide a quick burst of energy that might not be right for your horse’s work-load.
In an earlier blog post, https://equinefacilitydesign.com/equine-care/hay-horses.htm, I discuss feeding horses hay before giving them grain
If you’re considering making the switch to unprocessed grains, rest assured that you’re not alone — then call your vet, talk to your extension society, and do your homework. Grains can be safely fed to horses, but you’re going to be responsible for all the nutrition balancing that a feed mill does for their sweet feeds and pelleted feeds, and that’s a job you want to get right every time.