Written by: Victoria Broehm | November 21, 2022
Earlier this fall, on a whim, I signed my daughter and I up for riding lessons, something neither of us have done before. My lovely colleague equestrians regularly tout its benefits for young girls, and I thought it could be a great opportunity to spend more quality time with her, while learning more about horse care and feeding, something that could help me in my job (win-win!). Given this newfound interest, I recently joined the association’s equine committee to learn about why byproducts are used in equine feed.
Byproducts often get a bad rep with consumers, explained Robert Jacobs, Ph.D., equine innovation manager at Purina Animal Nutrition, but they are actually a sustainable choice for horse owners looking to provide specific nutrients to diets. For example, wheat middlings are low in starch and high in fiber, providing a great energy source for horses, and beet pulp, which “horse owners love,” is high in fermentable fiber. In fact, most of the vitamins, minerals and individual amino acids added to horse feeds are combined with byproduct carriers.
Jacobs explained that byproducts are not floor sweepings, fillers or cheap, as some might think. Rather, they are high-quality, nutritious, sustainable (think about all those leftover ingredients from human food production going into the garbage), cost effective (not cheap – given demand is high for some ingredients diverted to human food or the energy sector), safe and necessary.
“I don’t think we can feed horses in this country without the utilization of byproducts,” Jacobs said.
Horse feed is produced across the country utilizing billions of pounds of byproducts every year, keeping these otherwise unwanted components out of landfills. The most commonly used byproducts are derived from sugar beets, wheat, corn, and soybeans, however, other novel byproducts used in equine diets include almond hulls, cane molasses, fruit pulps, rice hulls, sunflower hulls, straw, apple pomace and linseed meal, among others.
Feed manufacturers may encounter some production challenges when incorporating these ingredients into feed rations, he explained, such as limited supplies or high prices, especially as the market shifts to meet the increased needs for plant-based proteins for human diets. They also may notice some differences in consistency, depending on when the initial crop was harvested, or in appearance, aroma or handling characteristics. Despite these considerations, their quality control teams work to ensure the final products are safe before heading out the door to horse owners.
As a highly educated animal nutritionist, Jacobs said one of his biggest challenges with using byproducts is dealing with misinformation spread online about byproducts, which negatively alters consumers’ perception of the safety, quality and sustainability of these ingredients. He urged others in the industry to be open and transparent about why they are using these sustainable ingredients in equine feeds to earn horse owners’ and consumers’ trust.
“Horses at every level of competition, including those competing at the top of their sports, are fueled by feeds formulated and manufactured with byproducts,” he said.
And given the sustainability implications, I think we all win given the use of byproducts in the equine feed industry reduces food waste and the food and agriculture industry’s overall environmental impact. That is not something to whinny at!