Many equine grain rations are designed to provide a specific level and balance of nutrition for an intended category such as growth, performance, stage of production, activity level, or age. Including additional feed ingredients such as oats and corn, or adding supplements such as protein or vitamin/mineral mixes will alter the original balance of nutrients and may negatively impact horse health.
Horses do not just require a specific level of nutrients in their diet; they require a specific balance or ratio of these nutrients. Altering the ratios in the final diet can be just as detrimental as overfeeding or underfeeding specific nutrients. For example, an improper ratio of calcium to phosphorus in a growing foal diet may result in developmental orthopedic disease, while overfeeding of zinc or iron negatively affects the absorption of other minerals such as copper and may result in a deficiency. Therefore before including anything else in a ration, it is essential to properly evaluate the nutritional content of any additional ingredients or supplements and their impact on the total diet.
Some typical additions to a commercial grain ration made by horse owners include oats, corn, beet pulp, protein supplements or mineral/vitamin supplements. While in some cases these additions may be desirable and beneficial based on the level of commercial grain ration fed, other times they provide no additional value, adding unnecessary cost and may create nutritional imbalances.
Oats and corn for example are very low in calcium relative to phosphorus and contain minimal amounts of available trace minerals and vitamins. Replacing part of a balanced Blue Seal or Kent grain ration with oats or corn alters the ratio of calcium to phosphorus, the protein-to-calorie ratio, and dilutes the mineral and vitamin content of the original grain ration. Beet pulp on the other hand is very high in calcium relative to phosphorus. It may be used to replace part of the grain or hay portion of the diet. In either case, levels of nutrients in the total diet should be evaluated when making such additions.
Protein supplements can be highly beneficial, especially in diets for growing horses and lactating mares, and/or when hay quality is too low to meet the protein requirements of the horse. However, care must be taken if the protein supplement also contains additional minerals and vitamins as this can impact the overall balance. The same can be said of feeding any supplement, whether it is a health supplement or a performance supplement, if it contains additional minerals and vitamins the total ration should be evaluated. This is one area where the greatest risk of creating a nutritional imbalance or toxicity can occur when fed in addition to a balanced commercial grain ration. Selenium for example is federally regulated at a maximum of 0.3 ppm in the diet due to toxicity concerns at fairly low levels.
Providing a properly balanced diet that meets the specific requirements of the individual horse is the most cost-effective and healthiest way to feed. Blue Seal and Kent equine grain rations have been scientifically formulated to provide a balanced diet for their intended purpose when fed according to directions.