Ask the Vet: Equine Nutrition

Question: What are your thoughts on feeding naked oats? The nutrition value in protein and amino acids, fat, easily digested starch and in bonus avenanthramides is certainly the number one grain. What do you think?

Answer: I’ll admit, I had to look up “avenanthramides” to learn that they are a type of oat phytoalexin that exist predominantly in the groats of oat seeds and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Now I finally know why oatmeal baths and shampoos can be so soothing to skin after a sunburn or poison ivy outbreak! And just so everyone is on the same page, hull-less or “naked oats” are high-fat (12-15%) varieties of oats that have been produced which are higher in energy than traditional oats.
In addition, hull-less oats typically contain more protein, including higher amounts of the limiting amino acids lysine and methionine. However, they also contain more phosphorous, so owners need to make sure the rest of the diet has appropriate levels of calcium to ensure the ratio between these two macrominerals is correct. So there are some pros to “naked oats” and some cons, and as long as you understand which type of oats you’re buying (with the higher price tag for hull-less oats this shouldn’t be too hard) I say avenanthramides away!

Question: My horse appears to overproduce oil on his head. Could this have anything to do with his diet? His hair falls out in patches as though it is not being hosed down properly, but slowly grows back. Then the cycle begins again. This only happens when he is in full work. 

Answer: While there are some nutritional deficiencies and excesses that manifest as skin and hair conditions, I’m not sure this is the case in your situation. I recommend having your veterinarian out to examine your horse and perhaps take some skin and hair samples to get to the bottom of the problem. At the same time, you’ll want to share your horse’s complete history with your vet as well as what you’re feeding your horse, including when and how much. Hopefully, between the physical examination, biopsies or cultures, and evaluation of your horsekeeping and feeding, a diagnosis can be reached and appropriate treatment started so you can get back to enjoying riding!

Question: I own a 13 yr. old mare that is out on pasture. I have not been riding much lately. She has her deworming, vaccinations, feet and teeth up to date. Should I give her any free choice mineral, and if so, what would you recommend? The horses do have access to a cobalt salt lick.

Answer: There are a couple of key pieces of information missing from your question in order for me to give you the best advice, such as what part of the country you live in, how much and what quality of pasture she has access to, and if she is a an easy keeper or at an ideal weight (she could be a hard keeper but guessing from her breeds that is less likely). Depending on the answers to these questions, your horse “may” be getting a complete and balanced diet just from the pasture, but most horses don’t, as—you got it—minerals can sometimes be lacking or in the wrong ratio in some areas.
I’m not a big fan of licks for horses, whether they’re white salt licks, red trace mineral licks or blue cobalt licks. These blocks were made for the rougher tongues of cattle and while some horses don’t mind licking them, others scrape them with their teeth or don’t bother with them at all. So loose minerals as you suggest would be a better choice, but rather than asking her to select what she needs or doesn’t need (horses don’t have a craving for anything but sodium) why not top-dress salt or minerals onto something she likes, like a handful of oats, hay pellets or beet pulp? By separating the horses just once a day to supply their individual minerals, you’ll be ensuring that each horse gets his or her daily serving of essential nutrients.