Understanding Your Horse’s Feed Tag

In Nutrition & Diet by HorseMom Mary1 Comment

Hi Everyone,

I just finished translating a guaranteed analysis for a feed so the information could be put into a ration balancing software program. Believe me it wasn’t easy. Feed and supplement companies make it difficult because they use different measurements for some of the same ingredients. Some use percents, grams, milligrams and ppm s when describing how much of an ingredient goes into the product. You also have to be careful what the measurements are for; pound, 8 oz., 4 oz., etc. They don’t all use the same amount of the product when you see the guaranteed analysis on the bag.

So I thought I would explain some of the information that is on a feed tag or container.

The more the extensive nutrient information and specific ingredients usually indicate the feed is a “fixed formula”. This means the product will be the same from one month to the next.

Remember extensive nutrient guarantees and specific ingredients does not tell you the quality of the product.

You will also need to look at the energy, fat and protein levels in the feed when choosing one for your horse.

Digestible energy is used to describe how many Kcals (calories) are in the feed. This is usually not on the feed tag but it should be so you know how many calories your horse is getting per pound. The higher the calorie content the less feed you have to give your horse.

Because the digestible energy is not on the bag you can find out what the general digestible energy content is of the feed by comparing the fat and fiber content on the feed label.

The higher the fat guarantee analysis and the lower the fiber guarantee analysis, the higher the digestible energy content (calories). Feeds with low fiber tend to be more digestible. Fat contains double the energy per pound than any other feed component. So when fat increases and fiber decreases digestible energy levels go up.

The ingredients in the feed also affect the digestible energy content. For example corn has a higher amount of calories than oats.

You should also consider the protein level for your horse and the quality of the protein. Amino acid levels is a indication of the digestibility and overall quality of protein. That’s why it is good to use feeds that guarantee lysine levels. A 12% protein feed with a guaranteed lysine level of .6 % will give your horse better results that a 14% protein feed with a lysine level of .4%. The amino acid content of the feed is what determines how well your horse will use the protein they eat and not the total protein level.

When you look at the ingredients on the feed tag you can check out the protein source, the minerals and vitamins used, the fat source, etc. so you know exactly what your horse is eating.

When you look at the feed tag for protein some of the ingredients they use in the feeds are soybean meal, milk protein such as whey or dried skim milk and alfalfa. Milk protein sources are usually used in feeds for young horses. Soybean meal or alfalfa are usually used in adult, performance and senior feeds. Some feeds have amino acids such as lysine and methionine added to them. If you buy a feed with that uses soybean meal with added lysine this will provide a higher quality protein to your horse.

Just like the protein not all minerals sources are easily digested by your horse. You can tell which ones are more digestible by looking at the end of the mineral name; minerals with the word sulfate at the end of it are usually more digestible than minerals with the name carbonate or oxide at the end of their name.

Organic mineral sources are even better than minerals with sulfate in their name but are more expensive. They will have the name proteinates or chelates after their name.

When checking the label for vitamins be careful because they may be excluded from the formula or in such small amounts that they won’t make a difference in helping your horses health. This is because vitamins get expensive the more they put into their feeds.

So after all that what does go on your horses feed tag:

The name of the feed as long as it doesn’t state or imply any drug or medical claims not allowed by USDA.

What type of feed it is textured, pelleted, extruded, complete, etc.

The purpose statement what type of horse the feed is designed for. For example weanling’s, yearlings, seniors, pregnant mares, performance or for more than one horse.

Is it a complete feed, diet balancer or supplement.

The guaranteed nutrient analysis on the label should include crude protein, min. crude fat, max crude fiber, min and max calcium, minimum phosphorus, and minimum zinc, copper, selenium and vitamin A. A company can guarantee as many nutrients as they want.

Ingredients listed on the feed tag or bag can be generic listed or specific listed. Generic ingredients include grain products, plant protein products, forage products, grain by products, etc. Specific ingredients include oats, barley, soybean meal or cottonseed meal.

Feed companies that use generic ingredient listing does it so it can be made for a less cost. It also allows the company to substitute ingredients in and out of a particular product.

Feeding direction should also be on the bag. They can be simple or detailed.

I hope this will be helpful when you purchase grain or supplements in the future. I know its a lot of information but I think it be very helpful when comes to making feeding decisions.

Talk to you soon,

Horse Mom


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    With the purchase of our first horse, we are wanting to make sure that we do everything right for him. When it comes to the food we should get him, we are in need of a little advice. It’s good to know that one thing we need to consider is the protein level of the food, that way we know how well our horse will use the protein that they will eat. That will be really helpful for us to know that we will not ruin his health by not picking the right food. Thanks for the information!

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