Types Of Horse Grain and How To Feed It

man with cowboy hat and a woman holding grains

Curious about the different types of horse grain?

Many horses have grain in their diets in addition to hay and grass, although it’s not always necessary.

If you want to feed this fiber to your horse, first start with a basic understanding of your options.

Below, we’ll go over the different varieties along with general guidelines on when and how to use them.

Horse Grain Straights

A traditional way to feed a horse grain is to use straights.

Straights mean adding portions of one specific type of grain to your horse’s feed. This is instead of a compound feed that is premade using a formula.

Let’s quickly look at the benefits and drawbacks, then we’ll discuss types.

BenefitsDrawbacks
Sometimes a cheaper way to feed your horse grainDifficult to get the balance of nutrients right
Gives you more control over what your horse eatsImbalance of nutrients can have dangerous consequences
You can stick to options that your horse likes to eat

Types Of Horse Feed Straights

Here we will highlight each of the straights options you can feed your horse. 

#1 Oats

Even a novice horse owner will be familiar with feeding horse oats.

Oats are one of the safest straights to feed your horse because they are high in fiber and low in energy.

However, keep in mind that oats come in different formats, and not all are equal. 

Whole oats are common but have a lower digestibility than rolled oats. The hulls of oats contain around 30% fiber.

Some feed suppliers now offer hulless oats as this increases the nutritional value. However, it also reduces the all-important fiber content. 

Oats that do not contain hulls (naked) have a protein content of between 15 and 20%, while oats with hulls have a 9 to 12% protein content.

Naked oats also have more lysine than standard oats. Lysine is an essential and important amino acid that helps the growth and development of young horses.

Feeding oats on their own creates an imbalanced diet. They do not have high levels of calcium, but they do have high levels of phosphorus.

This is dangerous because too much phosphorus prevents the body from efficiently absorbing calcium.

Oats also lack a sufficient quantify of trace minerals, such as copper and zinc.

Additionally, the protein levels may appear sufficient, but the protein quality is low, as is the amino acid profile.

For these reasons, you need to combine oats with other ingredients to balance the grain nutritional ratio.

#2 Barley

Barley is a common ingredient in compound horse feeds, but it is also available to feed as a straight.

Compared to oats, barley has more nutrients and energy. Many feel that this grain is likely to make a horse excitable than oats.

However, from personal experience, it is a trigger for hot behavior in some horses.

Barley is a good feed for horses that need to gain weight.

Like oats – in fact, worse than oats- barley has a very poor phosphorus to calcium ratio, which requires balancing with other nutrients.

This feed also does not have vitamin A and D.

It’s important to note that barley does not contain enough bulk and should always be fed with something like beet pulp, or chaff.

Always buy barley prepared specifically for horses. Barley is also a high starch grain and not suitable for horses that require a low sugar and starch diet.

#3 Corn

Corn is an energy feed. Of the straights covered here, it has the highest starch levels.

Corn is fed to horses after processing to flakes or cracked. High starch raises insulin levels and is not suitable for some horses.

Corn is excellent for adding calories for hard-working or underweight horses, however, avoid overfeeding it.

Check: Can Horses Eat Parsley?

Precautions To Take When Feeding Straights

Feeding a horse a diet of straights is not as straightforward as providing a premade mix or pellet.

You need to understand the nutritional value of each straight.

Otherwise, you can end up with unbalanced vitamins and minerals, which sometimes leads to health problems.

Make sure you understand the nutritional needs of the horse. You will need to add vitamins and minerals to your straights.

You will also need to make sure everything in balance. Feeding horses this way is time-consuming.

How To feed Straights

brown and black horse eating grains

Never feed a straight on its own.

You need to mix each one with other straights.

You also need to add vitamins and minerals according to the amount of each type of straight your feed.

If you decide to go this route, it is a good idea to discuss your plan with an equine nutritionist to ensure everything is correctly balanced for your horse.

Compound Feed

Compound feed is one that comes in a premade formula. Again, let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks to get a better picture of how it works overall.

BenefitsDrawbacks
Easy to feedSome compound feeds are expensive
All ready balanced correctly for horsesPellets look unappealing, though this is more for people than the horse, who doesn’t usually mind
Quality standards for consistency
Formulated by equine nutritionists
Wide variety of options
Takes up less storage

Compound feed is produced by several companies. Each company creates a range of horse grain for specific purposes.

For example, let’s take a look at the popular range available from Purina Mills, which is divided into groups based on age, workload, and special needs.

Within each group is a selection of grains formulated to suit that particular group.

Each grain option will have different levels of protein, sugar, and starch. However, all options will have a careful balance of minerals and vitamins.

All you have to do with a compound feed is select the correct one for your horse and feed the amounts according to the instructions.

There is no messing around with working out the ratios yourself, it is already prepared in one bag of feed.

How To Feed Prepared Grain

brown and black horse eating together

If you are new to feeding a horse, get advice from the feed company or an experienced horse professional on what feed is the best for your horse.

Follow the guidance of these professionals and the instructions on the particular bag of grain you use.

Some horses will require less or more than the recommended amounts depending on their weight and workload.

Always remember that grain is an addition to your horse’s feed. The majority of a horse’s diet needs to consist of forage, such as hay and grass.

Check: Can Horses Eat Cauliflower?

Conclusion

Even though it initially appears that feeding straights work out cheaper, it isn’t necessarily the case.

Once you take into account the added vitamins and minerals, the cost can actually exceed and premade grain.

Some pelleted compound feeds look pretty boring to the human eye.

However, don’t let this put you off. Horses don’t seem to take notice of this and eagerly eat a pelleted feed without complaint.

For newbies, don’t hesitate to ask the feed company or another expert when picking out the best grain for your horse.

This will help you know your horse is getting the nutrition it needs.

References:

  • “Can I Feed Straight Oats?” n.d. RED MILLS – Ireland. Accessed May 19, 2021. http://redmills.ie/blog/expert-advice/advice/Can-I-feed-straight-oats/
  • “Feeding Barley to Horses – Nutrition.” 1AD. Horsetalk.co.nz. November 30, 1AD. https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2012/11/05/feeding-barley-to-horses/.‌
  • Horse & Hound. 2004. “Compound Feed v Straights.” Horse & Hound. February 2, 2004. https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/horse-care/feeding/compound-feed-v-straights-47769.
  • “Oats: The Perfect Horse Feed?” 2003. Kentucky Equine Research. December 29, 2003. https://ker.com/equinews/oats-perfect-horse-feed/.

brown horses eating different types of horse grain

What types of horse grain do you feed your horse? Share with us below!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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