Feed Tags: Four Components to Evaluate

Every bag of horse feed includes a feed tag. The information it contains allows horse owners and managers to choose a feed with the proper nutrition at the best price for their individual horse. But with so much information on such a small tag, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Here are four key things to look at on a feed tag and understand about the feed a horse consumes.

National and state regulations control the information printed on feed tags. Some of the most important information to fully understand is the purpose statement, guaranteed analysis, list of ingredients, and directions for use.

The purpose statement is simply a description of what class or classes of horses the feed is intended for (e.g., broodmares, growing horses, performance horses, or mature horses). Since horses often have nutritional needs dependant on their intended uses, many manufacturers design feeds specifically for different classes of horses. Choosing appropriate feed can help ensure your horse's nutritional needs are met. It is imperative that horse owners use feeds designed specifically for horses (additives, such as rumensin, are often included in livestock feeds and are lethal to horses).

The guaranteed analysis provides the specific level of certain nutrients provided by the feed. Crude protein, fat, and fiber are commonly listed as a percentage. Certain minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, are listed as percentages as well. Some feeds also include the amount of sugar, starch, and specific amino acids guaranteed in that feed. The feed's nutrient levels are guaranteed when fed at the amounts directed on the tag (more on feeding directions in a moment). If you're unsure exactly what your horse should be consuming, consult a veterinarian or equine nutritionist; he or she will be able to suggest what percentage of the different components to select for each horse.

The list of ingredients is a rundown of all the grains, fiber sources, byproducts, and vitamin and mineral supplements used in the feed. Grains and grain products are listed first followed by vitamin and mineral sources. Ingredients are typically listed in order from greatest amount used to least amount used. Some companies will list the specific ingredients (such as cracked corn) while others will list just "grains" or "grain products" on the tag.

Directions for use should be followed carefully. This includes amount to be fed, generally listed as pounds of feed per day, and is based on the horse's weight. It also includes how the feed should be fed (e.g., if the feed should to be fed with hay, or whether it should be soaked prior to feeding). Avoid feeding more than four to five pounds at each individual feeding; if a horse requires large amounts of concentrates, divide the feed into several smaller meals throughout the course of a day.

Keeping the aforementioned information about feed tags in mind, here are some general recommendations for feeding horses:

  • Start with good quality hay, and use grain to fill in the gaps of your horse's nutritional needs; never base a diet on concentrates.
  • Compare feed tags of several different brands of horse feed, and see which one best suits your class of horses.
  • Using the guaranteed analysis, compare feed costs, and choose the feed that will provide the best nutritional needs for your dollar.
  • Provide fresh, clean water for horses at all times.

Take Home Message

A feed tag can be a valuable tool for horse owners when choosing an appropriate feed product. Chose a feed that is appropriate for your type of horse, and follow the directions on the feed tag carefully.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.