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What is the Real Answer to Sweet Feeds?

What is the real answer to sweet feeds? Does it make horses “hot”? My 3 year olds have been on Omelene 200 and switched to Omelene 100. I recently discovered it has a NSC of 40%. Sounds really high to me. I can’t switch to pellets because my mare has choked three times on it. I tried making it into a mash, but she won’t eat it that way. I did notice they seemed calmer on Purina strategy Healthy Edge which has an NSC of 18%. But, since my mare choked on it and she won’t eat it as a mash, I don’t know what to feed next. Thanks for any help. Carolyn

Dear Carolyn,

Before I touch on sweet feeds, I want to give you some advice about your mare that chokes, because that can be a serious issue, especially if she continues to do it. Choke in horses is when something gets stuck in the esophagus (like feed, bedding or a foreign object). This is different from choke in a person which involves something stuck in the trachea or airway but it can still be life-threatening because the horse can’t swallow anything. Choking is associated with horses that eat too fast, so suggestions typically include feeding small meals frequently, spreading grain out in a shallow trough, putting large fist-sized stones in the feed tub, adding chaff or some kind of short-chopped forage to the grain, etc. There’s even a new kind of feed tub specifically designed to slow grain eating in horses. Choke can also occur because the horse is not chewing properly so any horse that chokes should have its teeth and mouth examined. I encourage you to talk to your veterinarian about your mare’s choking and make sure you’re doing everything you can to prevent it from happening again.

Back to your original question! According to the NRC’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses:

“In studies examining the effect of dietary energy source on the clinical expression of recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis [tying up] in Thoroughbreds, researchers have reported decreased excitability, nervousness, and resting heart rate when the horses were consuming a fat-supplemented ration when compared to a high-grain ration. These authors suggested that the effect of fat supplementation on the behavior of RER-affected horses was due to the exclusion of dietary starch rather than a specific effect of dietary fat.”

In other words, feeding concentrates with a high NSC percent can lead to horses being “hot” as you describe. While every horse responds differently to the various feedstuffs in the diet, I agree with you that the 18% sugars and starches found in the Healthy Edge version of Strategy–plus it’s higher 8% fat content—probably does provide a “cooler” form of energy and calories than either of the two Omolene sweet feed products.

But the “real answer” to sweet feeds depends on your real reason for feeding them. Do your horses need the full portion of fortified grain to add or maintain their weight? Are they in moderate to heavy work (or pregnant or nursing) and have high requirements for energy and other nutrients? If not, you may be better off feeding a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement and avoiding the sugars and starches in fortified grains altogether. Each of the feeds you mention in your question must be fed at a rate of at least three pounds per day (some as high as nine pounds!) along with hay to obtain the minimum protein, fat, vitamins and minerals a 1000-pound horse in moderate work requires. Switching to a product like a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement which complete and balance the diet at a much lower feeding rate could benefit your horses both in terms of choking and “hot” behavior. I hope this information helps you select the most appropriate diet for your horses and that you are quickly able to resolve your mare’s choking issue.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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13 comments on “What is the Real Answer to Sweet Feeds?
  1. Jodie Mocciaro says:

    Maybe this is an uneducated question, but why not feed whole oats and a vitamin supplement?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Jodie, you certainly can provide a balanced diet with whole oats and a multi-vitamin supplement. In fact we offer a product called Barn Bag® which is specifically designed to be fed with whole oats. We’ve included a link below with additional information.

    • Morgan says:

      Hi Jodie i just read your comment about feeding whole oats and a supplement and if youre still considering this option i have had great results with it. i will never feed my horse any commercial feeds ever again. i have also found that if you add a hay pellet of some kind, such as a timothy pellet which is my first choice, the results are even better. i personally feed only about a cup of oats with about two cups of timothy pellets and a cup of dry beet pulp and my horse is in the best condition ever. a multi-vitamin supplement is defnitely necessary but in the end the cost of this feed style is usually cheaper than commercial sweet feeds because you feed less of it.

  2. Rachel says:

    The putting large rocks in the bucket works great! My horse choked so I separated his feed into two buckets and put salt blocks and/or large rocks in them. Now he not only has to take the time to move from bucket to bucket while eating his grain, but he also has to push around the blocks to get to his food.

    • Kristen says:

      This is a really great idea! It’s like the new dog food bowls that have the “large prongs” sticking up which requires that they eat much more slowly!

    • sarah Layton says:

      I don’t use two feed buckets, but do use a mineral brick and it does the trick.

  3. karissa says:

    what is a good feed i feed both of mine Omelene 100 and they look great whats a good feed for barrel horses and why one of the horses is 5year old gelding and the others a 13 year old mare

  4. Tasha says:

    Hello,we feed all of our horses 9% sweet feed and hay twice daily, is that okay or shpould we try something different? One of our gelding’s is a show horse,our mare is pregnant,( she also gets a supplement with her sweet feed)but she still really doesn’t gain enough like she should. She is very hard to get weight on and keep it on her. And one colt that’s only 1&1/2 and another gelding that just stay in the stall. This gelding will trail ride this summer though. Then all the other ones are out in the pasture and they all just graze and that’s it. If it’s not too much trouble please let me know if you think I’m doing the rite thing or if I should try to do something different. THANK_YOU SO VERY MUCH!!! TashaB.

  5. Aspen Moore says:

    I have been using Strongid C for 3 years now…how long can a person use this in my horses feed without having any altercations???

  6. Melissa says:

    I have a 13yr old gelding that we rope on alot still and he goes down the road alot. I have read articles about how all horses generally have some kind of stomach ulcer but it can get worse in horses who are used regularly and horses that are hauled alot. What can I do to help prevent ulcers? We currently feed a sweet pellet feed with corn and I am switching to just a pellet senior feed withought that sweet stuff in it and without corn. What else would you suggest? I dont like feeding oats because I have never had good luck with oats I feel like it goes right through them and I see it in their poo. I would really like your ideas please. Thanks!

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Melissa, thanks for asking! If you’re concerned about your gelding’s stomach health, the best place to start is by having a conversation with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to talk with you about what medications might be appropriate for your horse given his current situation. Evaluating his grain also makes a lot of sense, and you’re on the right track by working to limit the simple sugars in his diet. Luckily, there are also a wide variety of management strategies, as well as supplements to help support your horse’s stomach health, and those are covered extensively in another blog I think you’ll enjoy called Keeping Ulcers at Bay: I would check it out, I think you’ll find some really good information there! – Dr. Lydia Gray

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