Oats: The Perfect Horse Feed?

Last Updated on February 19, 2022 by Allison Price

You would think that oats are just oats. All oats may not be created equally.

Oats that are fed to horses are usually whole. This means that each kernel is protected in a hull, or fibrous sheath. Oats are often processed, such as rolling or crimping which cracks the shells and increases their digestibility. The hulls make up a significant portion of the grain. They can be found in between 23 to 35%, depending on the variety. Whole oats are a safer feed for horses than other cereal grains like corn due to their high fiber content.

Plant breeders developed varieties of naked or hull-less oats to enhance the nutritional properties of traditional oats. Although hulls cover the kernels during maturation, they are not necessary. They are thin and easily separated from the rest of the kernel when harvested. Hull-less oats, in essence, are self-milling. Dehulled oats, and hull-less oats can be confused. Dehulled oats have their hulls removed mechanically from the kernel. This can cause the kernel to be damaged or unpalatable. Some varieties of naked oatmeal were discovered to have higher levels of other nutrients during intensive plant breeding trials. These included protein, fat and phosphorus.

Oats: The Perfect Horse Feed?

Traditional oats have approximately 9-12% protein while hullless oats typically contain around 15-20% protein. There are also differences in the amino acids profiles. The naked oats contain 62% more Lysine (0.65% in naked oatmeal and 0.0.40% for conventional oats), and almost twice the amount of methionine (0.40% and 0.20% respectively in conventional and naked oats). This is great news for horsemen who care for young horses. For proper muscle development and maintenance, methionine and lysine are essential amino acids. A lack of either can cause slow growth and poor performance.

Hullless varieties have 9-12% fat, which is significantly more than the 5% in hulled oatmeal. Hull-less oats have an additional calorie source in the kernels, which is natural oil. Hull-less oats have a lower risk of causing digestive problems in performance horses because they are made from fat, not starch. Horse owners can save money by feeding fewer oats and still meet their basic nutritional needs.

Hullless oats are more phosphorous-rich than hulled. The phosphorus content of naked varieties could be as high as 30%, making them an excellent addition to diets that are high in high-calcium legumes such alfalfa. A combination of naked oats and alfalfa may keep the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in balance, an important factor to consider when formulating diets for young horses.

Horsemen might be reluctant to feed hull-less oatmeal because they believe that the hulls increase horse fiber intake. Fiber is essential for the proper functioning of an equine digestive system. To meet fiber needs, horse owners should consider roughages, such as pasture and hay, and not grains like oats. In cases where the horse’s calorie needs are not met by roughages, grains can be fed to increase the energy content. Whole oats are rich in fiber, but they are not easy to digest by horses.

Because of their higher physical density, consumers will often get more value for their money when they buy hull-less oatmeal. One bushel premium-quality heavy oatmeal would weigh in at 36 to 44 pounds. A bushel of hullless oats, for example, would be 50 to 55 pounds.

There are some drawbacks to hull-less oatmeal, despite their nutritional benefits. The main problem is the tendency to feed them too much. Due to their higher energy content, hullless oats don’t offer the safety margin that horsemen associate whole oats with. Naked oats have 20-30% more calories per pound than traditional oats. Therefore, for a horse to consume 10 lbs of traditional oats every day, they may only need 7 to 8 lbs of naked oatmeal to meet their caloric requirements.

Cost is another disadvantage. Horsemen might initially be reluctant to pay 20-25 percent more for hullless oats than for top-of-the-line crimped oats. Horsemen need to realize that they get about the same value for every dollar when the energy levels of the dietary ingredients are taken into account.

One final problem is the nutritional profile of diets solely made up of oats, regardless of their hulling or non-hulling. A vitamin and mineral supplement should also be added to horses to ensure they are getting the best nutrition.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!