Whole Oats, the Perfect Horse Feed?
by Yvonne Welz ©2004-2011
This article was published in The Horse's Hoof Magazine Issue 14, Winter 2004.
*Note: Some horses are grain-intolerant or sensitive to oats. Avoid feeding oats if you suspect EPSM/PSSM, muscle problems, or metabolic disorder, and discontinue oats if you notice any problems with your horse.
The topic of equine nutrition was a featured presentation at
the 2003 Internatl Conference for Strasser Hoofcare. Prepared by Dr.
med. vet. Dorothe Meyer of IWEST, Germany, every stage of the horses
digestive process was covered in detail.
One of the highlights was the information that in order for
the enzymatic processes of the small intestine to properly function, there
has to be a limited acid concentration. This partly depends on the starch
content of the feed. When a high ratio of starch arrives in the small intestine,
the contents of the small intestine become more acidic, to facilitate the
digestion of this starch.
However, below a pH of 6 (too acidic) the enzymatic breakdown
doesnt always happen, and things like gas and ulcers can occur. This
is more likely to occur when feeding large quantities of cereals that contain
starch, which is difficult to break down, such as corn and barley. The enzymatic
consequences of feeding large amounts of corn and barley is a disruption of
the pH of the small intestine, which leads to the transition of undigested
starch into the large intestine (colic, gas, acid feces, insufficient absorption
Which leads us to oats, which have 90% starch digestibility,
compared to around 30-35% for barley and corn. So when oats are fed (in appropriate
amounts), they are easily broken down in the small intestine, and the enzymatic
processes are not disturbed.
Whole oats are ideal because:
high proportion of mucilaginous substances
high proportion of husks
high prececal starch digestibility even before breakdown
high fat content
ideal to chew taking into account the horses dentition
very high palatability
Another reason for whole oats (instead of crushed) is that you
need the intact kernel in order to receive the fat content of the whole grain.
The husk of the whole oat is very important for correct chewing and digestive
processes. A horse with good teeth and proper dental care will chew and digest
the whole oat, leaving only husks in the manure. If oats are coming out undigested,
there could be a tooth or digestion problem going on, so be sure to investigate
How many whole oats? Of course, that would depend on the workloadif
the horse was not worked and was on good pasture, perhaps none at all. If
the horse receives significant exercise (as all our horses should) and/or
is not on pasture (hay only), or is recovering from a problem, it will most
likely benefit from the addition of some whole oats to its diet.
It was recommended that oats be fed broken up into many small
meals, with a maximum of up to 2.4 kg per meal for a 600 kg gram horse (converts
to around 5 lb per meal for a 1320 lb horseremember that is the maximum,
not the recommended!). Also, the oats should be introduced gradually, of course.
German SHP Peter Speckmaier told me that when horses are fed
too many oats, they get lazy, and not too energeticI imagine hes
speaking from experienceso you can tell if you are giving too much when
the horse lacks energy. I also heard from quite a few people that the addition
of whole oats has increased hoof growth. Ive fed whole oats for many
years, but not in any significant quantity, so I upped the oats on my own
horses. Things are looking very good so far.
Dr. Meyer contends that a problem with sport horses today is
that they often do not have a sufficient supply of the fatty acids to fulfill
their energy requirements, and actually panic from the feeling that they do
not have the energy they need, and take refuge in flight. Therefore, some
horses may appear hyper and uncontrollable (and then the owner cuts down on
the oats!) when what they really need are more oats to give them enough energy
to do their job, and they wont be so hyper.
More interesting information from Dr. Meyer was that the job
of the bacteria in the large intestine is to produce the volatile fatty acids
which are the horses very energy source. Dr. Meyer said we should avoid
anything that will harm these beneficial bacteria, as anything that endangers
them, endangers the very life of the horse (one of the reasons to be so careful
Jane Kempton, UK SHP, comments about her experiences feeding
whole oats to her horses: I have noticed a change and relaxation in
his being since he has been on the oats for nearly four months. Hoof growth
has increased and the coats of all the horses look fantastic. They dont
grab at the buckets quite the same as they did before, and Hugo and Mouse
produce enough dripping saliva to turn the bowl into a sort of porridge as
they are eating. Its being digested even before it goes into their mouths!!
The droppings are slightly different, too. In the beginning
quite a few oats were coming out whole, simply because in their excitement,
the horses werent chewing them properly. Now it is only a few husks
that appear. Feeding whole oats is a complete novelty in England. You have
to order the bags specially as there is no demand. To start with, it seemed
a huge amount to feed, but our horses are doing fine, too well, in fact
Erica Lynall, UK SHP, told us about feeding whole oats to her
formerly foundered mare: My mare, Moose, has been on whole oats for
2 years, but I upped the amount in the summer after talking with Peter Speckmaier.
I fed too much, and she did start to get lazyit was really weird, and
I thought something was wrong with her. Now shes on the right amount,
and shes full of energy and fantastic to ride. Before that, I wasnt
Peter told me that ammonia in her liver was causing her
to be sensitive on stones (shes ex laminitis). He said the ammonia seeps
out through the skin, eyes and lamellae, but it actually sits in the lamellae
and causes this sensitivity. Moose has suffered runny eyes since Ive
known her, but they are 85% better now (the eyes are on the liver meridian).
The protein and fat in the whole oats helps heal the tissues, and Ive
also been treating her liver with herbs and homeopathics to speed things along,
as otherwise it could take 6-7 years of natural living! Ive also added
extra lysine & methionine, as these are 2 amino acids oats are low in.
This makes for a more complete and digestible protein.
Now, she is stomping over stones like they arent
there! I can hardly believe it, as Ive battled with this for so long.
Back in the summer she was walking on them okay, but carefully, and now there
is a big, big difference. Her eyes continue to clear up, too, and she is much
easier to handle, as she is more mentally alert.
Ive had 5 particularly bad laminitic ponies to trim
this past summer, and I told all their owners to start using whole oats. They
were a bit worried, as most vets would keel over at this idea, but they trusted
and fed them. The healing has gone so much faster and easier for them since
the oats. Theyve all had crests and fat deposits, which are softening
In a book on human nutrition, by John Gray, he states
that beer bellies are actually a sign of liver problems/toxicity. The reason
they are also known as middle-age spread is that it takes until
middle age for the liver to start causing this bloated appearance. Ive
noticed masses of horses in their teens who appear to be fat, but on second
look actually just have a pot belly. John Gray states that no amount of exercise
gets rid of thisonly detoxing the liver will!
Note: Organic whole oats are highly recommended if they are available.
Click here for Oats part 2.
©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
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