Everyone's heard that they should eat the peel of their apple and the skin on potatoes because that's where much of the nutrition lies. While many people think of brans as little more than "roughage" or fiber, the truth is, they hold a lot of nutrition.
Bran is the outer covering of a grain kernel. It is higher in fiber and lower in starch than the kernel itself, but still packs quite a few calories and generous levels of minerals. In fact, if you look at our chart on the next page, you'll see the brans are higher in protein, similar in calories and much richer in minerals than plain oats.
Why Feed Brans?
- Very palatable, can be used to tempt picky eaters.
- Low calcium and generous phosphorus and magnesium levels help to balance the reverse situation found in most hays.
- Dense source of calories (similar to grains, about twice as high as average grass hays), but with much less sugar and starch than grains.Rich source of plant antioxidants important to bowel health.
- Good natural sources of B vitamins and vitamin E. (E is higher in rice bran.)
Selecting a Bran
Bagged wheat bran can be found at most large feed stores, or at feed mills, in 40 to 50 lb. bags. Ask for a human food grade bran. These are cleaner and less likely to have high levels of contaminating flour, which can drive the starch content up. (Horses don't digest wheat starch well.) Human products also have more stringent limitations on the levels of pesticides permitted. This is particularly important with bran products because the outer layers of the grain are the most likely to have high levels of pesticides.
Rice bran is also available either in large bags or can be purchased in bags or buckets from supplement manufacturers. When buying rice bran, it is very important that you get one that has been "stabilized." Because of the high fat content in rice bran, it goes rancid quickly when not stabilized. All stabilized rice bran is human food grade.
Rice bran products for horses come as nuggets or loose. See our chart entitled "Stabilized Rice Bran Products" on page 2 for some equine products. Note that many of these have calcium added to balance the high phosphorus naturally present in rice bran. This is fine if your horse's diet is already balanced, but won't help you if you are considering adding bran to help balance a high calcium level in your hay. (For example, alfalfa is very high in calcium, low in phosphorus, and many grass hays could use a phosphorus boost too.)
While rice bran is often used as the base in weight-gain products, it actually has fewer calories on the average than plain oats or wheat bran. However, many manufacturers add additional fat to the rice bran, which makes the commercial products more fattening.
The choice of wheat vs. rice bran depends on why you are feeding it. If the goal is to decrease sugar/starch in the diet, go with rice bran. If the diet needs a strong phosphorus boost (e.g., if you're feeding alfalfa), wheat bran is best. Be sure to get professional advice about how much you need.
Equine rice bran products are usually preferable for boosting calories. Even though wheat bran actually beats plain rice bran for available calories, the majority of rice bran products contain added fat, so they are more calorie dense. Both are palatable to most horses, but some horses may be put off by the very fine particle size ("dust") in some wheat brans.
As with any new feed, you need to introduce bran slowly because this will give the intestinal tract organisms a chance to adjust to the new food. This is especially true with wheat bran, where feeding too much too quickly can produce a laxative effect because the fiber in wheat bran is more difficult for the microorganisms to break down.
Stabilized Rice Bran Products
Omega Stabilized Rice Bran
Omega Fields division of Enreco
$51.95/50 lbs. delivered
Comments: Loose/meal rice bran. High phosphorus, no calcium added.
Triple Crown Feeds
Comments: Rice bran in an extruded, nugget form. Product sold on the West Coast does not have added calcium, but in other areas of the country it does.
Producers Rice Mill Inc.
Comments: Loose/meal rice bran. Calcium added.
Alliance Equine Nutrition
Comments: Available in both loose and nugget form. 1:1 Ca:P ratio.
Once you've introduced bran into your horse's diet, feed it regularly. If, for example, you only feed bran once a week, that same laxative effect will occur and disrupt the microorganisms in the bowel, something you want to avoid.
Also, consult with your vet or a nutritionist about the appropriate amounts to feed. That amount will depend on your horse's current diet and hay type.
Although many people like to feed wheat bran as a mash, it can also be fed dry by sprinkling it on top of the grain or mixed into it. Rice bran is often fed dry. However, the very fine, dusty particles in many wheat brans make them more acceptable to some horses as a mash. Mashes are also a good way to get some extra water into the horse.
A common mash recipe is to add 1 to 2 tsp. of salt per pound of bran, add enough hot water to cover and let it sit until the water is absorbed (15 to 30 minutes). This can be fed plain or mixed with grain right before feeding.
Homemade Low-Carb Grain Substitute
Mixing 1 lb. of alfalfa pellets with 6 oz. of wheat bran makes a tasty meal you can use as a grain substitute for a horse that needs to lose weight. This 1.5 lb. mixture will provide about the same amount of calories as 2 lbs. of a commercial grain mix or 1 lb. of plain oats, so the horse gets to eat more.
Please note that while the calcium, phosphorus and magnesium levels are good, you'll need to ask your vet or nutritionist if you should correct the imbalances in the trace mineral profile.
He or she may suggest using a supplement that contains no manganese but correct amounts of zinc and copper, such as adding 2.5 oz. of Select the Best's Mare and Foal supplement, available from www.selectthebest.com, about $16/10 lbs.