It seems many feed companies are jumping on the low sugar/ low starch bandwagon these days due to the apparent rise in conditions like Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Resistance (IR), and Cushing’s disease (PPID), but is every feed labeled ‘low starch’ safe for these horses? The answer may surprise you.
Some equine nutrition experts recommend that the NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) value (usually calculated by adding WSC + starch) of the feed or hay be 12% or less, while others recommend it be 10% or less for horses with metabolic issues.
Let’s take for example the well-known feed made by Nutrena called ‘Safe Choice’. At 22% sugar+starch content, I would say this is definitely not a safe choice for metabolic horses or even overweight horses. So you can’t always trust the name or even the claims on the feed bag.
I feed a forage-based diet to my horses, but even forage can be unsafe for metabolic horses. I get my hay and pasture tested to ensure that it has a low enough sugar and starch content for my two IR mares. I’ve fed several different concentrates to my horses, but right now, I’m feeding Standlee’s Timothy hay pellets mixed with a little bit of Standlee’s Alfalfa pellets (soaked) as a carrier for my supplements.
Finding a truly low NSC feed can be difficult sometimes, but I’ve put together a list of low starch horse feeds that are generally considered safe for metabolic horses (testing at 12% or less NSC):
- Ontario Deyhdrated Balanced Cubes
- Poulin Carb-Safe
- ADM Forage First Hay Replacer
- ADM Staystrong Metabolic Pellets
- Sterett Low Carb Complete
- Blue Seal’s Carb Guard
- Nuzu’s Stabul 1
- LMF – Low Carb Complete Stage 1
- Triple Crown Safe Starch Forage
- Standlee Timothy Hay Pellets
- Standlee Timothy/ Alfalfa Pellets
- Lucerne Farms High Fiber Gold
- Purina Wellsolve L/S
These feeds are also usually safe, but the NSC value can vary by brand:
- Un-mollassed beet pulp (or thoroughly rinsed-soaked-rinsed mollassed beet pulp)
- Alfalfa cubes/ pellets
Side note: To lessen risk of choke, soak hay pellets and cubes for several minutes before feeding. (I learned this the hard way!)
I should also caution that some of these feeds (such as ADM’s Staystrong Metabolic Pellets) have been shown to have very high iron levels–this might be a concern for metabolic horses as well, as attested to in this article I wrote for The Horse. Once again, getting your feed (or forage) tested is the only sure-fire way to know what’s in it!