Horse | Methods of Feeding Grain

Grain and forages are generally fed at the same time. Because cereal grains are more palatable, most horses will eat all of the grain before eating any of the forage. Some believe that feeding grain after most of the forage has been consumed is beneficial because it will result in a slower rate of grain consumption. This doesn’t appear to occur, however. The rate of grain consumption, as well as chewing behavior, also appears to be unaffected by the fiber content of the grain.

In addition, forage consumed with grain decreases the amount of the grain’s starch digested in the small intestine and, therefore, increases the amount that reaches the cecum. Excess starch in the cecum causes cecal acidosis, which if sufficiently severe results in diarrhea, colic or founder. The risk of this is decreased by not feeding forage for one hour or more before and for 3 or more hours after feeding grain. However, this risk can be better minimized in most feeding programs by feeding less grain. Not feeding forage and grain at the same time, increases feeding time and labor, and may not be practical in some situations. In addition, grain consumption before forage, as occurs when both are fed at the same time, results in a more intense mixing of ingesta and less variation in the concentration of substances in the horse’s large intestine.

Grains, like harvested forages, should be fed in a feeder to decrease feed losses and dirt consumption, which, if sufficient over time, may result in sand-induced colic, and/or, intestinal impaction. Wooden, plastic, or rubber feeding pans may be used for nonstabled horses or feed bags may be used. To prevent injury, metal feed pans are not recommended. Lipped feeding pans, and troughs with rings mounted on top, will help prevent horses from rooting grain out on the ground if this is a problem with a particular horse. This is not a problem with most horses unless they are being overfed.

Many people feed by volume, i.e., by so many coffee cans, scoops, quarts or liters of grain, and by flakes of hay. There is no disadvantage in feeding by volume provided it is known what weight of feed that volume provides. The weight of feed per unit of volume, or density, varies widely. For example, a 1 qt, 1 lb. or 1 liter (1-L) coffee can holds 0.5 lbs (0.25 kg) of bran, 0.85 to 1 lb (0.4 kg) of oats, and 1.9 lbs (0.9 kg) of wheat, which provide 0.75, 1.1, and 2.9 Mcal respectively, or nearly a fourfold difference in the amount of dietary energy provided by the same volume of feed. The small standard-size square bale may weigh anywhere from 35 to 120 lbs (16 to 55 kg), although it usually weighs 60 to 80 lbs (27 to 36 kg). A flake of it may weigh anywhere from a few to 15 lbs (1.5 to 7 kg). Thus, to determine the correct amount to feed, you should weigh the amount that the container you are using holds of the grain mix being fed, and the average size flake of the hay being fed.

This article is from "Feeding and Care of the Horse", second edition, by Lon D. Lewis, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1995. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.