Some horses are grain-intolerant or sensitive to oats. Avoid feeding oats if you suspect muscle problems, or metabolic disorder, and discontinue oats if you notice any problems with your horse.
Too much protein in the feed makes horses lazy, and too little protein in the feed, makes them retain water.
People say, ”Won’t oats heat my horse?” and the answer is no. Oats are the lowest in Energy out of all the grains, have less Protein and are the most readily digested and utilised of all the grains. This is why the oat was such a popular horse feed until more recently when people learnt they could make a lot of money from producing horse feed.
It has also been show that feeding whole oats to brood mares can increase milk production.
Whole oats are ideal because they have a:
- • high proportion of husks
- • high starch digestibility even before breakdown
- • high fat content
- • ideal to chew taking into account the horse’s dentition
- • very high palatability
- high proportion of mucilaginous substances (Mucilage can be used in gastrointestinal inflammatory processes; associated to topical irritation agents. The mechanism of action is that mucilages cover the mucous membranes and prevent irritation of the nerve endings. Def. from Wikipedia)
Oats have 90% starch digestibility, compared to around 30-35% for barley and corn. So when oats are fed (in appropriate amounts), they are easily broken down in the small intestine.
Another reason for whole oats (instead of crushed) is that you need the intact kernel in order to receive the fat content of the whole grain. The husk of the whole oat is very important for correct chewing and digestive processes. A horse with good teeth and proper dental care will chew and digest the whole oat, leaving only husks in the manure. If oats are coming out undigested, there could be a tooth or digestion problem going on, so be sure to investigate that.
It is recommended that oats be fed broken up into many small meals, with a maximum of up to 2.4 kg per meal for a 600 kg gram horse. Also, the oats should be introduced gradually, of course. If oats are fed alone, they must be supplemented with a good vitamin/mineral mix and hay.
A problem with sport horses today is that they often do not have a sufficient supply of the fatty acids to fulfill their energy requirements, and actually panic from the feeling that they do not have the energy they need, and take refuge in flight. Therefore, some horses may appear hyper and uncontrollable (and then the owner cuts down on the oats!) when what they really need are more oats to give them enough energy to do their job, and they won’t be so hyper.
Quote from one farrier: “ I’ve had 5 particularly bad laminitic ponies to trim this past summer, and I told all their owners to start using whole oats. They were a bit worried, as most vets would keel over at this idea, but they trusted and fed them. The healing has gone so much faster and easier for them since the oats. They’ve all had crests and fat deposits, which are softening and disappearing.”
“In a book on human nutrition, by John Gray, he states that beer bellies are actually a sign of liver problems/toxicity. The reason they are also known as “middle-age spread” is that it takes until middle age for the liver to start causing this bloated appearance. I’ve noticed masses of horses in their teens who appear to be fat, but on second look actually just have a pot belly. John Gray states that no amount of exercise gets rid of this—only detoxing the liver will!”
How much whole oats?
Based on Peter Speckmaier’s (SHP, Germany) info, here are some whole oat feeding guidelines for a typical horse, with natural living conditions, and receiving a little bit of exercise (but could use more):
|Horses’ weight||Oats per day|
|400 kg/881 lb||1.25 – 1.5 kg per day
or 2.75 – 3.3 lbs per day
|600 kg/1322 lb||1.5 – 2 kg per day
or 3.3 – 4.4 lbs per day
Feed less oats when horses are on varied, unimproved pasture with a wide variety of plants.
If it is only possible to feed one time per day, you should NEVER exceed 2.4kgs per meal for a 600kg horse, or 1.5kg per meal for smaller horses. Feeding more per meal than this can lead to undigested starch passing though to the large intestine and disrupting the digestive system (gas, colic, acid feces).
Older horses with poor teeth that can’t chew whole oats properly can still reap the benefits if you can cook the oats before feeding. This can be accomplished simply by pouring boiling water over the bucket and letting it sit, covered, for a while.
When adding oats, the calcium/phosphorous balance of the overall diet needs some attention. Many nutritionists recommend the optimum ratio for a mature horse to be between 1.5-1 and 2-1 calcium to phosphorous. Oats are higher in phosphorous, and can have an inverted calcium to phosphorous ratio of 1 to 5 (1 part calcium to 5 parts phosphorous)—so if you feed a lot of oats, you will need to balance this out with the correct amount of calcium.
Most grass hays have only a 1-1 or 2-1 ratio, while legume hays can have very high calcium, with a 5-1 or higher ratio. You can feed a small amount of lucerne as a “supplement” to increase calcium. Many people also feed beet pulp because of its high calcium ratio (6-1). Another solution is to provide a free choice calcium mineral supplement. Some h horsemen offer calcium carbonate, limestone, or bone meal, but the source and purity should be evaluated. Any free choice mineral mixes should have a 2-1 calcium to phosphorous ratio.
Remember that grain does not cause laminitis or founder—poor hoof form does.