Updated: Aug 24, 2022
With each visit to a produce store, the modern horse owner is confronted with a seemingly endless and bewildering array of sweet feeds, pelleted feeds and extruded products. Not to mention the array of supplements designed to nourish or enhance each and every portion of a horses’ mind and body. Another problem facing horse owners is the conflicting advice they may be given by various sources throughout the equine industry. However, careful consultation with equine nutritionists will usually show that there is at least one, and probably several “correct choices” for any equine.
Roughage (grass or hay) should be the foundation of every equine diet. Horses require at the very least 1% of their body weight in roughage per day. Sometimes a concentrate must be added to the diet in order to meet energy requirements for growth, exercise or reproduction. The equine stomach is unique in that the small intestine uses enzymes to digest proteins, fats and starches. The large intestine (hindgut) utilises a bacterial fermentation process to break down the fibrous portion of the diet. Horses consuming only a small amount of concentrates daily rarely have a digestive tract problem. Performance horses that require a high level of energy are most susceptible to digestive issues caused primarily from un-digested feedstuffs passing into the hindgut where the fermentation process begins to produce gas, heat and discomfort for the horse.
One of the most recently introduced forms of horse feed are extruded products. Extrusion is a relatively complex cooking and drying process that is commonly used in both the human and pet food industry. Extrusion utilizes a combination of steam and friction as heat sources to cook a formula under pressure. The sudden release of pressure exiting the die causes starch molecules to explode (much like popcorn) to form a unique nugget/cube.
Extruded feeds have several significant advantages over their more traditional counterparts (sweet feeds & pellets). The following advantages are discussed below:
The cooking process improves digestibility and energy availability by breaking down bonds of starches, proteins and oils. As little as 30% of uncooked grains (barley, oats & corn) are digested by a horses small intestine. The digestion of extruded cooked grain is increased to as much as 90%, therefore, decreasing the amounts of undigested grain passing through to the large intestine for fermentation.
Extruded feeds can assist in reducing the incidences of colic. The better feed efficiency is a result of extruded feeds being more completely digested in the small intestine rather than in the cecum. The increased feed utilisation has a major advantage in reducing significantly the incidence of digestive disturbances ie, colic.
The extrusion process creates a feed that is about twice as large and half as dense as a “loose” grain mix or pellet with the same ingredients and consequently it takes most horses longer to eat it (approximately 22%-32%longer).. Slower eating means that horses have more “chew time” that can help satisfy grazing urges and they are less likely to bolt their food and put themselves at risk for choke and colic. Chewing encourage saliva production that is essential for preventing gastric ulcers as it acts as a buffer to stomach acid.
Extruded feeds are known as “cool” feeds as horses tend to stay calmer. Fermentation is reduced due to increased digestibility in the small intestine. Excess starch overloaded into the large intestine is fermented to Dlactic acid resulting in nervous behaviour, diarrhoea and risk of laminitis.
Feed less – because of the longer chew time and better utilisation of extruded feeds, many horse owners find that they can feed less and get the same benefits. Extruded feeds are often recommended for horses which have such high energy needs that they require grain to be more than 50% of their overall diets (mostly young horses in intense training).
Extruded feeds often contain lower levels of dust and fines, reducing the risk of airway allergies. The heat and pressure of the extrusion process kills most potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. Due to the lower moisture content, extruded feeds have a long shelf life, ranging up to a year, unless exposed to moisture.
Hyfeed has a great extruded horse feed on the market. Cool Cubes is a fully extruded, 40% grain based cube that provides highly digestible energy and premium quality protein for horses in light to moderate work. Cool Cubes are scientifically balanced and contain Full Fat Soymeal and Equimin Plus therefore, ensuring that equines receive premium quality protein and a comprehensive range of essential minerals and vitamins.