Organic is a real buzz word when it comes to human food, it’s all about traceability and provenance and knowing what your food has been treated with or, in the case of organic foods, not been treated with. So why is organic relevant to horse feeds and what are the best organic horse feeds?
Feeding organic horse feed
Opting for organic horse feed has many advantages and here are some of the main reasons why organic horse feed is becoming more and more popular:-
- Fewer pesticides – in non-organic farming, anything up to 300 pesticides can be used and derivatives of these are often present in non-organic feed. Certified organic farmers are not permitted to use any synthetic pesticides and absolutely no herbicides. Organic farmers are allowed to use a spectrum of fifteen organic pesticides which are derived from natural ingredients such as Citronella and Oil of Cloves and even the use of these is restricted
- No artificial chemical fertilisers – artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited and instead the soil is managed in a completely different way to non-organic farms. Crop rotation allows the soil to recover and restore itself and organic matter such as compost or manure is added to aid soil quality and support healthy crop growth
- No GM ingredients – organic farming does not permit GM – Genetically Modified – ingredients or preservatives
The net result is a better and healthier horse feed derived from crops grown on farms which also support the wider environment so wildlife, birds and butterflies. Organic farms are a haven for wildlife and there is often 50% more wildlife present on an organic farm than a non-organic farm. And organic farming is better for the planet as this system of farming does more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture than conventional farming and it protects natural resources like healthy soil and freshwater sources during the production process.
The best organic horse feeds
Arranged in a unique stepping stone structure which makes this range appropriate for horses in all levels of work and super easy to feed, the Barley & Molasses Free range from Allen & Page is a carefully thought out holistic pyramid of horse feeding to suit all owners. Laminitics, veterans, youngsters and hard-working performance horses are all catered for using a system that is really easy to understand and implement. So, what are the key points about Allen & Page horse feeds and why do they make it onto the list of best organic horse feeds?
- This is a small family feed business based in Norfolk with decades of experience and the highest ethical and environmental standards – they were supporters of organic foodstuffs long before it became fashionable and also sell feeds for other species based on the same tried and trusted principles
- Allen & Page only ever use Hard IP – IP is Identity Preserved – ingredients which means that the crops are grown from non-GM seeds in a protected area away from GM crops. This is as opposed to Soft IP which often contains more than one tonne of contamination in every 100 tonnes of ingredient
- Allen & Page never use animal by-products in their feeds such as vitamins covered in a pork gelatine coating which is a common practice in the horse feed industry
- The feed mill at Allen & Page is ISO9001 approved, UFAS Feed Assured, Soil Association Licensed and Vegetarian Society approved
As well as being one of the best organic horse feeds, the Barley & Molasses Free range avoids cereals and sugars to ensure a low sugar and starch level, perfect for horses who boil over under saddle, for laminitics and those with sensitive guts, doesn’t that include all horses?! High fibre and oil ingredients provide sufficient energy for all levels of work with broad-spectrum minerals and vitamins to provide an optimum balanced diet giving the owner peace of mind that they are maximising their avoidance of digestive upsets and also feeding their horse one of the best quality organic horse feeds. This range is designed to be fed soaked but is quick and easy to prepare taking anywhere from 2-5 minutes depending on the individual feed.
This is another privately owned and independent feed company based in Norfolk but with a rapidly expanding national reach. Founded by a University of Cambridge scientist who is also a horse owner, priority for Dr Debbie Carley was what’s in the bag and where has it come from. This horse feed is all about feeding as nature intended but with a strong scientific basis.
- They use no waste by-products in their feed
- No cheap alternative ingredients
- No binders and no fillers
- No pelleting agents
- No preservatives or synthetic micro-nutrients
- Probiotics and prebiotics are included in generous levels, not just a pinch to legitimately put it on the ingredient list
- Ingredients are chosen with zero or minimal pesticide and herbicide treatments
- The Thunderbrook range includes certified organic products
- All feeds are formulated by an expert biochemist and nutritionist
- Analysis is undertaken by the best UK laboratories
Thunderbrook is at the cutting edge of equine nutrition and feed development aiming to produce the best organic horse feeds which retail purely on the quality of the product. Their sales team is minimal and they pride themselves on attracting sales via recommendations from existing customers and equine professionals within the industry. Thunderbrook’s organic range includes individual ingredients and feedstuffs such as linseed, organic straights – bran, oats – and organic meadow nuts which are a high fibre nut made from 100% dried organic meadow grasses and herbage, mixed species from organic pasture which is warm air-dried and dust extracted before being ground and compressed into 10mm nuts.
Simple Systems have always sought to do things differently, this time, based in Suffolk rather than Norfolk – what is it about East Anglia? – feeding horses using oil-bearing seeds and avoiding cereals, supplements and molassed feeds. The idea is to feed horses as close as possible to the way nature intended using high levels of digestible fibre, good quality protein and a wide range of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. The clue is in the name, the system is simple because it replicates what the horse should be eating naturally. Simple Systems offer one of the best organic horse feeds:-
- The organic horse feed range is GM-free so contains no Genetically Modified ingredients or preservatives
- They have minimal pesticides – organic farming permits 15 natural pesticides containing ingredients like Citronella and clove oil – no synthetic pesticides and zero herbicides
- Simple Systems feeds do not contain any artificial chemical fertilisers, instead, the crops are taken from land which is enriched using manure or compost
- Organic horse feed from Simply Systems doesn’t just benefit your horse but also the environment as buyers support crops grown on organic farms which attract and support wildlife; there is usually 50% more wildlife present on an organic compared to a non-organic farm
Simple Systems organic horse feed range offers two key products, Organic Lucie Pellets which are premium 6mm organic lucerne pellets and Lucie Stalks, a sieved lucerne chop which offers a very low-calorie feed, ideal for horses who need to lose weight or who need a good quality maintenance fibre feed.
Coolstance Copra seems to be the new kid on the block but is in fact, a product which has been around for twenty years now. Coolstance Copra is made from the white flesh of the coconut which is harvested, dried and baked and then ground down into a meal. Coolstance Copra is a totally natural product and is chemical and GMO-free.
- Coolstance Copra is unique because it has low NSC – Non-Structural Carbohydrate – and a high digestible energy content which Coolstance describe as ‘cool’ energy
- The energy is derived from the coconut oil and the fibre from the coconut meal, a perfect balance of the fibre the horse needs for healthy gut function and the oil for slow-release energy
- Coolstance Copra contains less than 2% starch and works well for horses that heat up or become fizzy on other feeds
- Coconut oil is a saturated oil and is not prone to oxidation or rancidity and is rich in Medium Chain Triglycerides or MCT which absorb quickly into the bloodstream in comparison to other oils popular in horse feeds like corn oil, flaxseed and soy oil which are digested much more slowly
- Coolstance Copra is highly palatable even for fussy feeders and the oil improves body condition and hoof and coat quality
- This feed with its oil and fibre components is recommended for horses prone to tying up (azoturia), laminitis, colic and Equine Metabolic Syndrome
Coolstance Copra can be fed either on its own or in a mixed feed with chaff and other grains or concentrates. If fed dry, it should be mixed with other feeds and dampened down or it can be fed with water added to make a mash. Coolstance Copra can absorb at least three times its own weight in water so follow the guidelines carefully before you feed it. Because the copra contains very low levels of naturally occurring starch and sugar, it can be left to soak for a long time even 12 hours ahead of feed time and it won’t ferment or spoil.
This is a European product which is imported into the UK via a company started by a horse owner when she was looking for specific feeds for an old horse with health issues and she named the company after him. Agrobs feeds are high in fibre and low in sugar and starch with pure and natural ingredients.
- The feed is produced from crops grown without pesticides and herbicides
- There are no GM seed bases
- There are no binders, additives, preservatives, flavouring or mould inhibitors
- Agrobs feed contains no soya or molasses
- Agrobs harvest every year at the optimum time which will vary from year to year and manufacture their horse feeds with a unique process which preserves all the taste and nutrients
Agrobs positioning in the market is the contra to the processed cereal or grain equine feeds which are not necessarily the best choice for your horse’s gut health. They believe that what goes in the bucket should only be what the horse would naturally find in the meadow which is why they are rapidly gaining in popularity and reach as one of the best organic horse feeds. Excessive amounts of sugar and starch can cause issues like colic, founder or tying up whereas high-fat diets can compromise glycogen storage. Horses love the fresh alpine meadow smell of Adrobs feeds which are highly palatable. The feeds come in different formats as mashes, cobs, mueslis and flakes. Grown in meadowland in Bavaria at the foothills of the Alps, your horse will be able to taste the difference.
Dengie uses a 100% Natural Logo to demonstrate their credentials. Dengie grows as many of its own ingredients as possible to control the quality, the authenticity and the production process; Dengie can offer provenance of their raw materials and demonstrate their manufacturing methods. Dengie grows 5,000 acres of alfalfa and 1,000 acres of grass within a twenty-mile radius of their production plant so every bag of Dengie can be traced back to the exact field where it was grown.
- Alfalfa is a member of the pea and bean family and has deep roots which allow it to uptake both water and minerals from the soil as well as being beneficial for the soil structure
- Alfalfa can absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into its own tissue some of which is naturally put back into the soil. This means that no additional fertilisers are needed either for the soil or the crops that follow
- Alfalfa is left in the ground for three years which reduces tillage of the land and data suggests this is also beneficial for carbon capture
- The grass for Dengie products is grown naturally and is 100% free from pesticide residues
- No GM materials are used in the fields so Dengie products are safe to use on organic certified holdings and yards
- Dengie source their oil from UK grown rapeseed, a change they made in 2013 as prior to this, their oil was sourced from soya oil from Brazil. This allows Dengie to maintain their non-GM status and reduces the feed miles of the oil they use in their products
- Pioneering high-temperature drying techniques used during the production process conserve the nutritional quality of the fibre for horses. Because the crops are dried artificially rather than being left on the field like hay, they can be harvested much earlier in the growing cycle offering a more digestible product which is higher in energy and natural nutrients and minimal levels of dust and mould
The Dengie products to look out for are Alfa-A-Oil, Alfa-A Molasses Free, Alfa-Beet, Alfalfa Pellets and Meadow Grass with Herbs. Dengie is a reassuring and trusted name that horse owners have used for decades and it just keeps on getting better and better.
The rules of feeding
Whatever organic feed you use it will have no impact on your horse if you don’t follow the golden rules of horse feeding. These include:-
- Feed little and often – horses are trickle feeders and have small stomachs which can easily become overloaded. The maximum weight per meal for horses over 400kig should be 2kg
- Feed the largest feed last thing at night
- Always ensure the horse has access to clean, fresh water
- Always weigh the feeds, don’t feed by eye as this means you will end up feeding by volume, not by weight as feeds all have different densities; a scoop of one feed may have a significantly different weight to a similarly loaded scoop of another feed
- Use quality feeds which are within date and store then well to prevent them becoming dusty or mouldy in vermin-proof bins
- Feed according to body weight, you can calculate the horse’s weight using a weigh tape or ask a feed company to come to your yard to do a yard visit and assessment – they usually bring a portable weighbridge or you can sometimes weigh your horse at the vets
- Change feed gradually including forage, your horse’s hindgut has specialist microbes which are present to digest the specific foodstuffs he is eating, a sudden change of feed can disturb this delicate balance and lead to abdominal discomfort and possibly even colic
- Keep feed ahead of exercise so increase the workload before you increase the feed
- Wait an hour after feeding hard feed before exercise, this helps to prevent gastric acid from the stomach splashing up and damaging the stomach lining
- Feed at the same time every day or as close as you can to it
- Feed plenty of forage, this is actually the most important element of the horse’s diet as the horse has evolved to eat large quantities of fibre across two-thirds of a 24-hour period
Top Tips for choosing the best organic horse feed
- Always read the label, products labelled ‘pure’ or ‘natural’ may be anything but, check out what’s actually in the bag
- Read the entire ingredient list as there may be additives and supplements that your horse doesn’t need and you don’t want
- Contact the feed company and ask about the status of their ingredients if it is not evident from either the bag or their website
Organic horse feeds are undoubtedly more expensive than non-organic feeds purely because of the additional high standards that need to be met to produce and certify the ingredients. They also seem to be catered for by smaller and independent feed companies rather than the big names like Spillers, Dodson & Horrell, Baileys and Saracen.
Your yard owner may insist organic feeds are used on the yard or the farm if he is looking to achieve or maintain organic status or this may be a preference you have for your yard at home. The best organic horse feeds may be more expensive than what you are currently feeding so always check that you are feeding the correct amount – many horse owners feed more than the horse actually needs. All the companies listed will visit your yard and body score and condition your horses and then talk you through the feeds which are most appropriate your horses’ needs. Organic horse feeds don’t just help your horses, they benefit the wider environment and the carbon footprint, there have never been so many compelling reasons to make the switch to organic.