Commentary

Senior Equine Feeds and Fiber

Senior Equine Feeds and Fiber

A well-formulated complete senior feed with adequate crude fiber can be wonderful substitution in the diet for horses with no access to pasture or unable to consume long-stem hay.

Photo: iStock

Q. Is it true that senior feed isn’t really suitable for older horses because they have a high fiber content, and aged horses don't actually digest the nutrients, they just run through their digestive tracts?


A. Many senior feeds are high in crude fiber compared to other types of commercial feeds, because they are complete feeds. This mean they contain all the forage a horse needs in the diet. You can give complete feed as a horse’s sole diet with no additional hay or pasture. To maintain hindgut function when fed alone, fiber content in these feeds must be high. Typically, the percent crude fiber in senior feeds is in the high teens or low 20s.

This amount of fiber is high compared to what you’ll see on feed tags for products formulated for performance and growing horses, but the crude fiber content of senior feeds is well below what hay contains. A hay pellet might easily contain 30% crude fiber. The crude fiber amount is supposed measure the indigestible portion of carbohydrates within a feed, yet it’s likely an underestimate of what’s truly indigestible.

While these feeds’ crude fiber portions might not be particularly digestible, it’s incorrect to say that because of this the horse can’t digest other nutrients. Fiber is only one component in a feed, and it’s not the sole source of nutrients. Most commercial senior feeds utilize readily digestible feed ingredients such as beet pulp, rice bran, wheat middlings, soybean meal, vegetable oil, and possibly grains such as oats. These feed ingredients provide sources of quality protein, fat, and readily available carbohydrates. Additionally, senior feeds are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Often these vitamins and minerals are included at rates higher than in feeds for other mature horses, because senior horses might have a decreased ability to absorb some minerals.

Also, senior feeds’ physical form makes them more digestible than, for example, hay. The particle size of commercial feeds is small, and this increases the relative surface area that digestive enzymes and intestinal bacteria have to work compared to the particle sizes of chewed hay. As a result, the nutrients in senior feed are likely better utilized.

A well-formulated complete senior feed with adequate crude fiber can be wonderful substitution in the diet for horses with no access to pasture or unable to consume long-stem hay.

Do you feed your older horse a senior feed?

About the Author

Clair Thunes, PhD

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an independent equine nutrition consultant who owns Summit Equine Nutrition, based in Sacramento, California. She works with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the United Kingdom Pony Club. Today, she serves as the regional supervisor for the Sierra Pacific region of the United States Pony Clubs. As a nutritionist she works with all horses, from WEG competitors to Miniature Donkeys and everything in between.

comments powered by Disqus
Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More