Is grain free/low sugar, low starch always the way to go for horses?

Feeding grain free diets has grown in popularity in the last 10 years and there are certainly many benefits. BUT, need it always be the way to go? The answer is, it depends, but often no.

Horses with conditions like laminitis, PSSM tying up, PPID/Cushing’s, equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance etc MUST be fed a low sugar, low starch (or low non-structural carbohydrate; NSC) diet. Usually, to achieve low enough starch and sugar levels, these diets need to be grain free. One of the things FeedXL is great for is to help you sort out which feeds, forages and supplements are safe (low in starch and sugars; NSC) or not safe to feed horses with these conditions.

But for horses that don’t need low sugar, low starch diets to control diseases, as long as grain is FED SAFELY, grains can form a very valuable part of a ration! They are economical compared to high energy fibres like beet pulp (which are expensive in comparison), they provide a source of glucose that horses in heavy work can use to readily replenish muscle glycogen supplies, and they are palatable… horses love grains, so keeping horses in hard work eating on grain based feeds tends to be relatively simple provided the recipe is good!

So, as long as grains are well cooked (with the exception of oats which can be fed uncooked) and as long as you feed them in small meals (no more than 0.5 kg/100 kg BW, 0.5 lb/100 lb BW) they can form a very useful part of a horse’s diet. These are HUGE ‘as long as’ statements too… feed grains in the wrong way and things WILL go horribly wrong. But that is another story for another day.

The moral of this story is don’t fall into the trap of one-size-fits-all when it comes to grain free. 

There is more info here on why we cook grains for those of you who would like the details: https://feedxl.com/18-feed-cooked-grains/

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