Oats, often considered a safe grain option, have been a staple in the feeding program of horses for years. However, the nutrient profile of this grain may surprise you.
Grown in many parts of Canada, United States and Europe, the nutrient content and quality can vary widely depending upon the genetic variety, growing conditions, soil type and harvest conditions. The starch content can wildly range from 32% to as much as 43%.
Calcium and phosphorus work closely together to build strong bones and muscles needing to be in a balanced ration to be absorbed and to work effectively. A ration of 1:1 is the minimum, but can range up to 6:1. On average, oats have inverse Calcium:Phosphorus ratios and on average run 0:06% calcium to 0.45% phosphorus.
The start level must also be reviewed on oats. Over the past decade, there has been a great movement to low starch and we have now redefined the term "low". Historically, low may have meant anything below corn, which runs on average 65% starch. The starch levels of oats can run from 32% to 43%. However, the digestibility of oats tends to be higher than in other cereal grains. To compare, today's low starch feeds run around 11 - 14%.
In a previous post, amino acids the building blocks of protein was discussed. Although present in oats, there is great variability and no guaranteed or consistent levels can be made.
De-hulling, crimping, rolling or crushing oats can provide a marginal increase in the digestibility of nutrients, although minimal. Next time you clean your stall, take a look at the pile of manure to see if there are any oats embedded. Those are the ones that went through the digestive tract without providing any nutrition to your horse.
As oats are highly variable and nutritionally unbalanced in many areas, feeding oats to your horse without balancing the diet could result in nutritional deficiencies. If you feel strongly about oats, consider a commercial supplement, that way you will know your horse will be getting balanced nutrition.