For the enzymatic process of the small intestine to function normally, there has to be restricted acid concentration. This is partly dependant on the starch content of the feed. If there is too much starch in the small intestine, the contents become more acidic, to facilitate the digestion of starch.
However, if the PH level is too low (too acidic) the enzymatic breakdown does not occur and this can then cause conditions such as gas and ulcers. This is more common when large amounts of cereal grain containing starch are fed this includes corn or barley. The consequences of feeding large amounts of corn and barley is a disruption of the pH of the small intestine, this then means that undigested starch travels into the large intestine and can cause colic, gas, acid faeces and inadequate absorption of minerals.
Oats, however have 90% starch digestibility, compared to around 30-35% for barley and corn. When oats are fed, in the right amounts, they are easily broken down in the small intestine and the enzymatic processes are not disrupted. Oats are also lower in Protein and carbohydrates compared to all other grains.
Whole oats are ideal because they contain:
- A high proportion of mucilaginous substance
- A high proportion of husks
- A high pre-cecal starch digestibility even before breakdown
- A high fat content predominantly essential fatty acids
- Are ideal to chew taking due to the horse’s amazing grinding process within the mouth
- Very high palatability
- Do not require soaking
One of the most important reasons for feeding whole oats instead of crushed or steamed and rolled is because to maintain the fat content it is necessary to feed the kernel. Correct chewing and digestion depend very much on feeding the husk. If your horses’ teeth are in good condition and have regular visits from the equine dentist then only the husks will be left in the manure. If you find the whole oat in manure then it would be necessary to make sure there are no problems with his or her teeth.
The level of oats required will depend on the workload of the horse, obviously a retired horse or a horse in light work will require little or no oats compared to a three day eventer.
It is a good idea to feed 2-3 small feed per day if possible as your horse will gain more value from the feed this way, however if your horse has access to pasture every day then generally 1-2 feeds would be ample.
Generally if you are using Oxydane you will find that your feed quantities will reduce as these formulas actually increase digestion and utilisation of feed. The amount of oats required will vary from one horse to another, to gain an accurate recommendation we would suggest that you complete one of our free advice forms.
Feeding oats is nothing new, they were the feed used with cavalry horses dating back to the 11th century. Oats were usually fed with hay and straw. Older horses with poor teeth that can’t chew whole oats properly however they can still benefit from oats by soaking the oats with hot water before you feed.
When adding oats, the calcium/phosphorous balance of the overall diet needs some attention. Many nutritionists recommend the optimum ratio for a mature horse to be between 1.5-1 and 2-1 calcium to phosphorous. Oats are higher in phosphorous, and can have an inverted calcium to phosphorous ratio of 1 to 5 (1 part calcium to 5 parts phosphorous)—so if you feed a lot of oats, you will need to balance this out with the correct amount of calcium.
Using a daily formula such as Oxydane or BreedPlus will solve this problem. If you are feeding hays and chaffs then this will also assist the calcium/phosphorous ration. Feeding Lucerne chaff or hay is also an excellent way to provide a better balance. At the end of the day the pros of feeding whole oats far outweigh the cons.
Antoinette Foster Dip. Nut.
Hi Form Managing Director/Equine Nutritional Therapist/Medical Herbalist/Product Formulator