Horse Feed, Cereals and Straights

Humans have been farming cereal grains for thousands of years. They are consistently used as a source of energy that is low in cost, possible to produce in large quantities and consumed worldwide. Cereal grains are not only responsible for large parts of our diets, but out of their sheer versatility have become our favourite treats, such as cakes and breads from wheat flour,  to our favourite beer from the fermentation of barley, or simply enjoying a bowl of porridge oats in the morning. The word cereal comes from the goddess Ceres who was the Roman goddess of agriculture. But what makes a cereal grain a cereal grain? It is the edible seed of any plant belonging to the grass family.  

Cereals For Horses, Ponies and Livestock          

“Straights” in the horse industry, is the word used to categorise cereal grains for feeding horses and livestock. Gone are the days of getting a bucket and all the necessary ingredients to mix the feed yourself. There is no need to these days, as it has already been done for you.  However there is so much choice available, it can be a daunting task picking what to feed your horse or pony! But it has not always been the case. It is only in the last 20 years that pre-mixed packaged feeding has become the most common way to provide your horse with a fully balanced, complete feed that includes all the required vitamins and minerals. The majority of these products on the market will largely include straights and the main cereals associated with feeding horses and ponies are oats, barley and maize. Each one has a different effect on horses and is usually fed after having gone through a variety of different processes. For example rather than feeding barley whole it is usually bruised or rolled and then cooked to make it more digestible. Some might call someone who did this a “cereal killer”!! Each product in this category will have a short description about its nutritional value and effect on a horse and pony so please feel free to browse and learn.

Why feed straights instead of a compound feed?

Why then, would someone buy a bag of oats if they can buy a readymade bag with everything the horse needs? Firstly, although old fashioned, some people simply still prefer to mix their own feed, giving them the option to add only what they feel there horse needs. It is important to understand though, that a horse requires the appropriate vitamins and minerals to function properly, so if you choose to do it this way please supplement the feed with the appropriate balancer. Secondly, some horse owners like to boost the content of a specific grain if the pre-mixed bag they buy doesn’t have enough for their horse or ponies’ dietary needs. Bearing this in mind,  be careful when doing this as many of the products available are balanced and adding extra cereals can compromise the balance of your horse’s diet. If in any doubt, please speak to a qualified nutritionist for more information. Please also note that a constant supply of forage and fresh water should always be available to your horse or pony.

Digestibility of Cereal Grains

Naturally, horses would not eat such cereal grains in the wild; it is only through domestication that we have introduced cereals into their diet. As you may know, the digestive system of a horse has been designed to have a constant supply of highly digestible fibre to be able to function healthily and as intended. They are designed to graze forage little and often throughout the day, and this would give a non-working horse the sufficient amount of energy required. Since not all horses are at rest or in light work, we sometimes do need to supplement the horses with an extra energy source, to suit the desired task of the horse owner. One way we do this is by adding cereal grains to the diet. As horses cannot digest whole cereals, the grains are put through different processes of rolling, bruising and cooking. This makes the cereal grains much more digestible. Something to be aware of is that cereals also contain high starch levels which can be detrimental to the horse’s gut function if over fed. A certain amount of starch can be digested and broken down in a horse’s small intestine, but if too much starch is fed it can carry through to the large intestine where it cannot be digested and can create unwanted fatty acids through a process of fermentation, and can ultimately lead to colic or other GIT (gastrointestinal tract) related problems.

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