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Oat-based sweet feed

From: Christine

Hi Jessica! I found a recipe for horse cookies in my Practical Horseman magazine and it called for oat based sweet feed. First of all, where would I find that? Secondly, what is an oat based sweet feed and should I be giving it to school horses? If so could you name a brand or something that I could look for? I feel kinda stupid for asking this question as everyone else seems to know what it is, but I don't. Thank you! Christine

Hi Christine -- this is a good question, it's not stupid at all! Besides, I don't believe that there ARE any stupid questions, remember? ;-)

Many horses eat their oats straight -- just plain oats, out of the bag. They can be whole oats, cracked oats, crimped oats, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, but they're still just plain oats -- nothing added.

Sweet feed is more complicated. There are a lot of different brands -- most feed manufacturers have at least one, and many local feed mills have their own versions. There are many different kinds of grain mixtures, and grain mixtures contain many different elements, and even the same brand may not contain precisely the same mixture from year to year -- or even from batch to batch! What DOES stay consistent is the overall nutritional value of the feed, even if the ingredients vary. Most of these feeds are formulated by equine nutritionists, so you can feel safe feeding sweet feed to your horse (as long as the feed is fresh -- more about this later).

Sweet feeds are grain mixtures that are usually either oat-based or corn- based (whichever it is, it will be the FIRST ingredient listed on the label, and it will be the predominant grain in the mixture). In addition, to those grains, most sweet feeds include other grains such as barley and wheat -- this part of the mixture will vary, depending on which grains are available and what the prices are at the time of manufacture. If you look at the labels, you'll see that most sweet feeds also include vitamins, minerals, and salt! Since these elements can be powdery and dry, the mixture is generally "stuck together" with molasses -- this adds sugar (and a great smell -- most horses love molasses!), hence the term "sweet" feed.

You can generally find grain mixtures in 10-12% protein, 14 -16% protein, and even 16-20% protein. Unless you're feeding foals in a creep feeder, or trying to build up a sick horse or a pregnant or lactating mare, you probably won't ever need to buy the higher-protein mix. Most horses, including school horses, do very well with the 10-12% protein mix.

If you wonder whether this is right for YOUR horses, talk to your vet and/ or your county extension horse specialist, who can talk to you about the latest research in equine nutrition. You'll be able to come up with a good feeding program for your horses based on their size/age, exercise and fitness levels, and the nutrients present in their hay and grain. (In the meantime, be sure that they always have water and salt!)

Sweet feeds can go "bad" - and make horses ill, or even kill them. If you ever open a bag and find that the sweetfeed has a grey look to it, and that it smells nasty instead of smelling like something that YOU might like to eat, do NOT feed it to ANY horse, but take it back to the store right away. It's moldy and could be toxic, and the store owner will want to know so that he can pull the other bags off the shelves.

There are a lot of well-known brands of sweetfeed -- if you read Practical Horseman, you've probably seen the advertisements for Omolene, for instance. But I suggest that you find someone who already uses sweet feed, and buy a few pounds from them, because a full bag of ANY sweet feed will make more cookies than you even want to THINK about...

Let me know how the cookies turn out!

- Jessica

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