High Fibre Feeds: Looking Beyond the Feed Tag
Source: Purina Canada
As a horse owner, you already understand the importance of fibre quality when it comes to choosing hay for your horse – but what about when it comes to feeds? With such a wide variety of concentrates on the market that are categorized as “high fibre” or “fat and fibre” feeds, choosing the right product for your horse can seem a daunting task.
When first evaluating a feed, it is common to reach for the feed tag analysis, but what is it really telling us when it comes to fibre? And why do two products with the same crude fibre content have such different prices? Unfortunately, the reality is that the numbers on feed tags do not represent quality when it comes to the fibre portion of the feed because the crude fibre percentage does not accurately indicate the total fibre content nor the digestibility of the fibre, and after all, digestibility and content are what really matters to your horse.
What makes a fibre digestible or indigestible?
Your horse’s hindgut hosts a large population of microbes that are actually responsible for digesting the fibre consumed via fermentation. These bacteria and protozoa can break down parts of the fibre called cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin into a form that is usable to your horse. However, there is another component of fibre called lignin that the microbes cannot digest. So when a feed has a high lignin content, its digestibility will be significantly lower than that of a feed with a low lignin content, even when the crude fibre values are equal. A feed with a lower digestibility will mean that less energy is available to the horse, and less available energy means your horse will have to eat more of the feed to meet his caloric requirements than if the feed contained a higher quality fibre source. While a certain bag may cost you less because it contains lower quality ingredients, at the end of the day you may end up spending more because you will have to feed more in order to achieve the same results.
How do you know if a feed contains high quality fibre?
It all comes down to ingredients. Fibre sources such as beet pulp and soy hulls are considered to be super fibres because of their high pectin content. Pectin is so highly fermentable by the microbes in the hindgut that your horse can gain significant amounts of energy from the digestion of these products. The calorie levels in super fibres are only slightly less than those found in cereal grains such as oats; however, their low sugar and starch (NSC) content makes them an ideal ingredient for horses that need to avoid high NSC feeds for reasons such as laminitis, insulin resistance, tying-up, and more.
On the flip side, oat hulls are a common ingredient but are virtually indigestible by the horse because of their higher lignin content and lack of pectin. They are an inexpensive ingredient that may be added to increase the crude fibre content of a feed, and should not be confused with digestible fibre. Because the guaranteed analysis on the tag does not tell us how much of the crude fibre listed is actually digestible, it is important to have a look at the list of ingredients to determine what sources are making up the fibre portion of the feed – higher quality products (those that are using soy hulls and beet pulp) will often be more expensive than products using lesser quality ingredients as their fibre source.
Once you have found some feeds using high quality ingredients, it is important to choose a product that is formulated for your horse’s needs. Do you need a complete feed that will provide much-needed vitamins or minerals? Purina’s Evolution line contains products designed specifically for performance (Sport Elite), mares and foals (Maternity), young horses (Juvenile), and Seniors. Ultra-F and Fibra Plus are versatile feeds that are low in NSC, and can meet the needs of a variety of horses. Horses that tie-up, are prone to laminitis, have Cushing’s disease, or are insulin resistant may benefit from Integri-T, a market leader with a guaranteed 10 percent (max) NSC. Hard-keepers requiring a high fat (12 percent), controlled-NSC feed would benefit from Trimax. Do you need a feed with built-in roughage, to replace a portion of the hay? Fibra Classic is an excellent product to add extra roughage to the diet, as is Simplici-T Nature.
This information was contributed by Purina Canada.