What’s in Your Animal Feed?

As a society, we’re becoming ever more aware of the importance of eating clean; a healthy, well-balanced, nutritious diet made up of whole foods. But how many people factor those same considerations into their animals’ diets? Highly processed feeds can be as bad for animals as highly processed foods are for humans.

“We encourage getting all of your animals on a clean diet of minimally or non-processed feeds,” Shira Nafshi, owner of The Trainer’s Loft, says. “That includes organic or grain-free feeds for horses that have been correctly balanced with supplements for their region.”

Horse’s Digestive System

As Shira explains, horses were designed to be foragers.

“Before domestication, horses were constantly moving and constantly eating to get the proper nutrients,” she says. “The way their entire digestive system works reflects that.”

Horses are classified as a non-ruminative herbivore. Although they eat an entirely plant-based diet, their stomachs are non-compartmentalized - in other words, their digestive process more closely resembles that of humans than cattle.

The equine digestive process occurs primarily in two different stages; the horse’s foregut and hindgut. After a horse chews and swallows their food, it enters the foregut, where gastric acid helps break it down into smaller, absorbable particles. The horse starts to digest important minerals, amino acids, and vitamins as the food travels through the intestines. In its hindgut, the horse converts these absorbable particles into useful nutrients with the help of healthy bacteria.

Nicole Sicely of equine nutrition supplement maker Vermont Blend says this delicate process can lead to some difficulties for your horse’s digestive system.

“Horses produce stomach acid around-the-clock,” Nicole explains. “This can lead to ulcers and other intestinal problems. Their saliva acts as a buffer from the acid, but horses only produce saliva when they’re eating.”

That’s why Shira recommends having hay in front of your horse 24/7 wherever possible, utilizing slow feeder hay nets to regulate their rate of consumption. Instead of bolting the hay, your horse will eat at a slower pace and properly absorb all of the nutrients in their feed. An added benefit is less hay wastage as the slow feeder keeps it contained, so less gets trampled on or soiled with manure.

“When hay is always available to your horse, it slows down their consumption because they aren’t worried about finding their next meal,” Shira says. “You should also add concentrated feeds and supplements for what your horse is missing from a hay diet.”

Hidden Dangers in Standard, Processed Feed

Kevin Fletcher of New Country Organics, an organic feed provider based in Virginia that works with the Trainer’s Loft, says it’s important to make sure your horses are healthy by focusing on their insides.

“The two most important things your horse needs are clean water and clean feed,” Kevin explains. “We want to get chemicals out of our horses’ diet.”

Non-organic horse feed often contains glyphosate, a systemic herbicide and crop desiccant. Originally patented as a mineral chelator to remove scaling in boilers, the chemical is now one of the most widely used herbicides for crop control.

Unfortunately, the widespread use of glyphosate and a “cocktail of other herbicides” can lead to serious health problems in animals that consume them. According to Kevin, recent studies have linked a rise in insulin resistance in horses to chemical consumption through feeds.

Kevin also explains that, just like it kills weeds, glyphosate can destroy healthy bacteria, yeast, algae and protozoa that are naturally occurring in your horse’s gut. Once an animal’s digestive system starts to struggle, their endocrine and immune systems can also be jeopardized.

Benefits of Organic Feed

While Kevin states that traditional horse feed can contain genetically modified soy and corn as well as traces of chemical contaminants, the production of organic feed is rigorously monitored to ensure quality. Plus, many organic feeds are formulated with mineral and digestive aids to help your animal thrive in today’s environment.

“There is a regulatory limit of 400 parts per million of Roundup allowed in traditional horse feed,” he says. “Our organic feed has no chemicals or genetically modified ingredients like soy.”

Shira notes that her customers report noticeable differences when they feed their livestock organic alternatives.

“Chickens on organic feed have thicker shells, darker yolks, and fewer medical issues,” she explains. “With a forage based diet, hot horses tend to calm down, and those that are over- or underweight often better regulate their weight. Combine the forage based diet with organic feed for those who need more, and the horses tend to have better coats, and better hoof growth than they were on processed feeds.”

While organic feeds tend to be more expensive than traditional blends, the benefits of feeding your animals the proper nutrients far outweigh the cost. According to Shira, feeding your animals healthier products devoid of chemical additives can help bolster their health, lead to fewer medical expenses, encourage higher quality products like eggs, and improve the overall quality of life your animal’s life.

Choosing the Right Diet

According to some studies, colic is the leading cause of premature death in horses. Colic, which is abdominal cramping that may require surgery to alleviate, can be caused or exacerbated by abrupt changes in hay or grain, among other factors. In order to prevent your horse from colicking, it’s important to ease the transition to organic feed while incorporating dietary supplements if appropriate.

“We work with everyone that comes in to figure out the best feed and supplement plan for their horse,” Shira explains. “Just like your horse, feed is not a one-size-fits-all.”

Horses in high-performance jobs need specialized feed, as do older horses and those prone to ulcers or other medical concerns, including insulin resistance. It’s important to formulate a thoughtful feed and supplement plan for your animal that reflects their unique needs.

Your horse’s environment also plays a critical role in their diet. While working as an independent equine nutrition consultant, Nicole visits horse owners to collect samples from their hay and analyze its mineral contents. After identifying what nutrients the hay lacks, she creates a unique supplement to replace the missing elements.

“Each horse has different requirements,” Nicole explains. “We look at what the horse needs, what the horse has in their hay, and then we fill in the blanks with nutritional supplements.”

Nicole’s Vermont Blend supplement is formulated from ten years of analytics in New England. It’s designed to replace the important minerals absent in 90% of hay on the east coast. It also provides the amino acids, and yeast that your horse needs to maintain a healthy digestive system.

“One scoop added to your horse’s feed fills in forage gaps and makes sure your horse gets everything they need and nothing they don’t,” Nicole explains. “We don’t use any fillers or additives, and our supplement is formulated to have low sugar and starch.”

As we all focus on eating healthier as humans, it’s important to remember that our animals can benefit from eating clean food, too. Combined with a well-developed feeding plan, organic feed and supplements can help your animals achieve healthier body normalities, reduce their exposure to chemical additives, and improve their quality of life.

The Trainer's Loft is a consignment tack and holistic horse supply shop located at 307 Main Street in Titlon, NH. Visit their website at thetrainersloft.com.