Can I feed my horse on ruminant products?
By Lizzie Drury, Saracen Feeds
The safest answer to this question is “no, you should not feed your horse ruminant feed.”
Many people would probably argue that they have fed sheep or cattle feed to their horses for years and never had a problem. They are likely telling the truth but this still does not make it appropriate.
If you are a person that carefully reads the feed labels you will note that there are very few differences between many ruminant feeds and horse feeds, with regards to some of the raw materials that are used e.g. oats, maize, fibre pellets etc. From a purely nutrient quantity stand point, the feeds may be very similar. However, it is important to take into careful consideration the manufacturing or milling process when comparing horse feeds to cattle feeds. Some ruminant feeds may contain medicated ingredients or other undesirable ingredients for horses and unless you read your feed labels you may never notice.
There are guidelines established by the Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) and these guidelines are established to protect animal owners from feeding a feed that would be dangerous for their animal whether it be a horse feed containing a cattle feed component such as antibiotics or a sheep feed containing too much copper. Some medications for ruminant animals could be potentially fatal to horses if consumed in a large enough quantity in exactly the same way as excess copper intake to sheep could be fatal if you were to feed sheep a feed formulated for horses.
Feed mills that manufacture cattle feeds and horse feeds in the same mill must take the mill through a cleansing process after they have milled to ensure that the mill equipment is clean of any undesirable substances to, such as medication to reduce any undesirable substance carry over before they can mill horse feed. The majority of mills these days will run horse feed and ruminant feeds through on totally separate lines or even manufacture at different milling sites to ensure there is no contamination of the horse feed.
The UFAS guidelines, however, do not protect those horse owners that choose to feed their horses cattle feed or sheep owners that choose to feed their sheep horse feed. So you could be gambling with your horse’s health and welfare. When you decide to feed your horse cattle feed, you forfeit the protection offered to you when feeding feeds that are strictly labeled for use in horses. Knowing how deadly the consequences can be, it is recommended that horses be fed feeds that are manufactured for horses and leave the ruminant feed for ruminants!