Myths and Truths About Oats

by | Nov 9, 2022 | Uncategorized

The discussion around the feeding of oats is filled with truths, myths and misjudgments.

The reputation of oats is destroyed and the trend of expensive muesli without oats (but with heaps of sugary molasses), especially when it smells delightful is ever growing. Many horse owners feel the onsets of a nervous breakdown if you so much as mention the idea of feeding oats. However, the one thing that has been scientifically proven multiple times is that oats remain the most easily digestible grain for horses.

Another clear upside is that oats are relatively inexpensive. That said, it is important to ensure good quality and to not compromise on quality at all.

The Pros of Oats

  • Oats don’t have to be pressed, popped, or shredded before feeding (like corn or barley) to ensure optimal digestion by the horse. Corn and barley (if fed unprocessed), can actually cause the horse to founder.
  • Oats contain unsaturated fats.
  • Oats contain a very good kind of protein (similar to amino acids in chemical makeup) and not more or less protein than for example barley.
  • The grains encourage the horse to chew more.
  • Oats contain no “sticky” proteins like wheat or rye, which can actually clog up the stomach.
  • You know exactly what you are putting in your horses’ feed.

A common misconception about oats is the rumoured excessively high protein content but, oats don’t actually contain more or less protein than barley. However oats do contain significantly higher levels of essential Amino acids like Lysine, compared with barley or corn. When we speak of “essential amino acids” we are talking about those that the horse’s body cannot produce by itself and must therefore come from the horse’s feed. Essential amino acids are hugely important for any number of cells and therefore bodily functions and as such the high content of these amino acids in oats definitely speaks for the feeding of oats.

Not feeding horses oats because one fears protein is also unwarranted. Realistically most horses (at least those kept for leisure purposes only) are only fed small amounts of hard feed; the idea of then insisting on a feed that is low in protein to try and avoid excessive protein and a hot horse, has no valid basis. 0.5kg – 1kg “low-protein muesli” with (for example) 75g digestible raw protein is barely different to feeding the same amount of oats (which will contain around 85g of digestible raw protein).

When looking at the total daily intake of digestible raw protein, which for an approximately 500kg leisure horse in light work should be around 320-400g. In most cases, horses in light work should be able to cover the vast majority of their protein needs through adequate amounts of good quality hay (approximately 6-8kg per day depending on amount and quality of grass in the paddock). So extra feed becomes almost superfluous and should focus on ensuring the supply of minerals and vitamins.

Oats are quite easily digestible for the horse so, feeding rolled oats is not actually necessary. The oats only need to be rolled if the horse has trouble chewing; for example if the horse is older or, has problems with its teeth, as well as foals and young horses up to around 3.5 years old. It must be rolled oats for the sake of the horse’s health. However to maintain optimum levels of vitamins, minerals and proteins rolled oats should ideally be fed on the same day or within 3 days of rolling.

Is it normal to find whole undigested grains in the manure?

Yes, because even oats are not 100% digestible for the horse (they lie at around 84%). So it is completely normal that there will be some undigested grains in the horse’s manure. If you think that 1kg of oats contains hundreds of individual grains, it is completely normal to find a few grains in the manure.

Oats have to be harvested dry and continue to dry in storage for at least 12 weeks before they can be fed to horses. If this is not followed it can lead to major health problems such as immune system deficiencies, founder, colic, skin problems, and many others. Good quality oats can actually be stored for around 12 months without any problems so, long as they are stored in a dry, dark, cool and airy place.

How can I check the quality of oats?

The bigger and fatter the individual grain of oats, the higher the energy content, with reduced protein content. If the grain is longer and slimmer, there will be more protein. Good quality oats should weigh at least 550g per litre. Anything under 450g/litre indicates an inadequate quality and should not be purchases. This litre-weight reduces by about 30% for rolled oats.

Look closely at the oats! Depending on the type, oats should be yellow, white or black. Most common is yellow/gold oats. Any abnormalities in colour are very easy to detect in this type of oats. Grey or brownish spots on the outside of the grain mean there is a mould problem. It can also be worth looking at the inside of the grain, the inside should be white like flour, and any grey or blueish spots will indicate mould.

Only use cleaned oatsmand be sure there are no bits of dirt or any other types of grain in the oats as this can lead to significant health risks. Soaking oats in a bit of warm water will turn them into something that looks a bit like porridge, and is ideal to mix medicines or minerals into before feeding to ensure full intake of these supplements/medicines.


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