The Thing About Supplements

What’s a feed?

An equine feed is most often sold in large bags with recommended feeding rates of five pounds per day or more, sometimes much more. The most common source of energy in feeds is a blend of grain and grain by products. The protein source in most feeds is also usually grain based, but, in low quality feeds may be from other sources.

Many feeds are formulated to meet their printed label guarantees at the lowest cost by reformulating every week with different components. This is called “least cost formulating”. While the protein, fat and fiber levels may be the same from bag to bag, the actual product inside may not be. In general, the easiest way to spot a “least cost formulated” feed is to look for a tag on the bag that lists the nutritional information rather than having that information printed directly on the bag. If the manufacturer is constantly changing the formulation as ingredient pricing varies, it is easier to change the ingredient list on a tag than on a pre-printed bag.

When a feed product is made to the same formulation every time, no matter how the ingredient costs vary, it is called “Fixed Formulating”. Usually, a fixed formulated product will have the ingredients printed directly on the bag. The exception to this might be bulk packaging for large users, but in general, fully printed retail store packaging means “Fixed Formulation” and the consistency that goes with getting exactly the same product every time you buy.

What’s a supplement?

When we think about supplements for horses, we usually imagine a small bucket with a little scoop inside. The recommendations for use commonly tell us to feed one or two of these little scoops per day. The goal here is to supplement deficient, or totally missing, pieces of the nutrition puzzle. This can be of value in some situations, but many supplements are not what they seem.

As a person who has formulated many equine supplements over the last twenty years, I can speak with some authority on the subject. Not all equine supplements are created equal. The equine supplement market is a very competitive place, and quite price sensitive. There are a number of different ways to compete in this market. Let’s take a look at some of those ways.

The first is to use low quality components and provide an inexpensive product. For the horse owner, this is usually money wasted, no matter how inexpensive the product may seem. If the ingredient quality is low, it is seldom utilized by the horse in the manner promised on the label.

The second is to lie about what you put in the product. This is more common than you might think, and very hard for the consumer to detect, other than lack of result from the product. With the financial problems we have in most states, product testing by state regulatory agencies is not as common as it used to be. Many low quality manufactures know this and take advantage of the situation by making products that simply do not contain what the label states.

The third is to use high quality ingredients and charge more for the finished product. If the product is well formulated, and the feeding rate is proper, the results can justify the added expense in some cases.  The best equine supplements follow this course, and, while usually expensive, can work for the horse and its owner unless you fall into the next scenario listed below.

The fourth might be the most confusing. That is to use quality ingredients and have accurate ingredient guarantees, but lower the recommended feed rate to hit a lower price per day. I see this often with higher priced supplements. They may work well if you use a higher feed rate, but the maker is afraid that you will not buy the product if you really knew how much you needed to feed, and how much that would cost, for your horse to get the response from the product that the maker promises.

Win Wolcott