What Are Those Pellets in the Sweet Feed?

Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price

The average texture of “sweet” feed was created not too long ago by mixing different whole and processed grains (oats and corn), a mechanically-ground protein source, usually soybean meal and a few drops of loose vitamins or minerals. A mixture that included finely ground protein and loose vitamins and minerals produced a lot of fines.

These mixes used molasses to hold the ingredients together, prevent separation of ingredients and manage dust. Anybody who has ever given one of these sweet feeds will tell you how easy it was for horses to pick out the most suitable ingredients and to eat them. Horses do not always eat the right ingredients. This was evident to the author during graduate school at University of Kentucky. Horses would not eat the experimental ingredient in their feed if it was used to alter nutrient intake for growth. They just sorted it with complex nose and lip movements, leaving it at bottom of their feed tub.

Pellets in the Sweet Feed

New Technology

A progressive feed mill manager came up with a better system, probably motivated by customer complaints about fines. Textured feeds are a combination of protein, vitamins and minerals that are then added to the grains. Because the pellet contains the loose materials, there is less need for molasses. Although the mixing-pellet method is simple, it has improved the horse’s ability to receive essential nutrients. The use of pellets in sweet feeds has eliminated the need to sift loose ingredients and minimized fines. The pelleted mix can be consumed with readily accepted nutrient carriers, including flavors.

Mixing pellet technology allows you to control the amount of protein, vitamin, and mineral fortification by how many pellets are added to the mixture. This is because the sources of these nutrients can be found in the pellets. For mature horses, sweet feeds tend to be low in pellet inclusion. These feeds tend to be low in essential vitamins and minerals and protein. However, feeds for horses and broodmares contain more pellets which increases both protein intake and nutrient fortification.

Next Step

Mixing pellets into sweet feed is a brilliant idea. The nutritional value of sweet feed depends on how much and what type of pellets are included. Horse owners often want the most attractive sweet feed but their horse would not be able to eat the recommended feed amount if it was not fed.

Horse owners prefer to feed their horses less sweet feed. While this would ensure the horse gets the right amount of calories to maintain their body weight, it would also result in a poor diet that is deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. This problem can be solved by taking the essential protein, vitamin, and mineral pellet from the sweet feed mix and giving it to the horse without any fattening grains or molasses. A diet food is created by feeding the horse a small amount of the mixing pellet (less than 2 pounds per day) without any additional grain.

This diet has been very successful in feeding broodmares during late pregnancy. The majority of mares can sail through pregnancy in good health and can be fed the recommended amount of sweet feed to provide necessary protein, vitamins, and minerals. Many mare owners have mares who are overweight and do not require the additional calories from the grain feed. It is not possible to provide adequate nutrition for the mare in late pregnancy, as this could lead to fetal growth problems. Broodmares that are overweight can be given a small amount of the nutrient dense mixing pellet, without needing to feed the large amounts of sweet feed required to obtain the same diet fortification.

Depending on the fortification level of the pellet, two lbs of mixing pellet could replace eight lbs of sweet feed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. A viable management option is to feed small amounts of mixing pellets to broodmares who are overweight. Similar practices have been used to feed foals with special needs. Some foals experience a rapid skeletal growth spurt, which can cause increased bone sensitivity and swelling. Epiphysitis is a temporary condition that causes swelling or inflammation of the growth plates. However, it should not be ignored because more serious bone deformities could occur if the condition does not improve. This time, the nutritional goal should be to reduce excess body weight and to promote rapid bone growth. The foal will not be starved of nutrients, but losing weight will slow down bone growth. However, it will help reduce the burden that the new soft bone tissue must bear.

Folklore suggests that you should “pull them off grain” to help these foals get through their growth spurt. This will reduce the amount of calories needed to keep them from getting too fat, but it also strips the body’s ability to absorb the necessary nutrients to develop healthy bones. It is better to reduce calories and feed the nutrients you do need. Mixing or adding a supplement pellet is a good option. Supplement pellets provide the necessary nutrients and protein to replace the excess calories in grain.

A large boarding facility may also require that the fortified diet (i.e. the mixing pellet) be fed separately from the grain and calorie sources. These facilities often house horses of all sizes and with very different nutrient needs.

It is almost impossible to find a single prepared grain that is suitable for both competition horses and overweight “lesson” horses. One grain concentrate can often overfortify horses who have a low grain intake, or underfortify horses who are fed large amounts of grain. It is easy to feed the fortified mix pellet separately from the grain. Every horse can receive the recommended daily amount of mixed pellets, as determined by their nutrient requirements. Horses with additional calories, such as horses who are hard-keepers or have been in intensive training, can get more mixing pellets. Unfortified grains like oats or corn can be added to meet their energy needs. The 700-pound (318-kg), lesson pony might get 1 lb (0.45kg) of mixed pellet daily with no additional grains, while the competitive show horse, 1100-lb (580-kg), gets 2 lb (9.9 kg) of mixing powder plus 6 lb (6.7 kg) whole oats. Each horse receives a balanced diet that is tailored to its energy needs. This is the beauty of it all. Two feed ingredients are available to barn owners/managers: a protein, vitamins and mineral source (mixing pellet), and a unfortified grain source (calorie).

One final example of mixing pellets with show horses is when they are competing. These horses are required to travel for long periods of time due to show schedules. It is easy to run out of space when hauling the entire horse’s grain ration. It is almost impossible to buy the same fortified grains from different states or countries. It would be possible to save space if horse owners only carried the concentrated protein, vitamin, and mineral source (mixing powder) with them. On the road, you could purchase generic unfortified calories (oats), as needed. This feed system provides a stable method of nutrition for horses without the need to transport the whole grain ration.

Kentucky Equine Research offers a mix pellet that can be bagged individually as a low-calorie diet supplement. These pellets are often referred to simply as supplement pellets, and can be called many things in different parts of the world.

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!