Does Your Horse `Scrabble` When He Eats Pellets’

Pellets can be quite palatable, in fact they often contain just as much molasses as sweet feeds. Because all the ingredients are ground to tiny particle sizes and exposed to high heats, they’re basically ’prechewed’ and, to an extent, predigested since complex starches are presented to the intestine in simpler forms that can be more easily acted upon by digestive enzymes.

The nutrient density per weight of pellets is higher than the loose ingredients. Estimates are that the horse will consume 20% more pellets by weight than he would of the whole ingredients. This helps get enough calories into hard-keepers. However, pellets do have drawbacks.

The heavy processing destroys many fragile natural ingredients like enzymes, essential fatty acids and vitamins. If temperatures are too high, amino acids can be altered as well.

Because the carbohydrates in pellets are more easily digested and rapidly absorbed, they can cause a bigger glucose spike and higher release of insulin. Substituting pellets on an equal volume or even on a weight basis for grain will lead to excessive weight gain.

Manufacturers sometimes substitute lower-quality grains in pellets and make up the difference in protein analysis with cheaper protein sources. Broken grains and ’fines’ that would end up as ’dust’ at the bottom of a bag of whole grain can be easily incorporated into pellets.

A pellet feed will mold easier than a whole grain because of its tendency to hold and absorb moisture. Many people mistakenly substitute pellets for sweet feed during hot, humid months thinking the pellets keep better. Actually, the reverse is the case.

Bulk loads of pellets can’t be stored in bins or silos designed for intact grains for longer than about two weeks without beginning to spoil. They’re best stored in their original bags, on pallets, below 80?° and in low humidity. Maximum storage time under ideal conditions is 90 days from date of manufacture. Don’t buy pelleted feeds that aren’t dated or where dates are illegible.

Inspect a few handfuls of the pellets every day before feeding. Once spoilage/molding starts, it can progress rapidly. Evidence of problems include:

• Pellets that are larger in diameter than the others, appearing swollen.

• Pellets that have a change in exterior color or aren’t a uniform color.

• Pellets that aren’t consistent inside and out. (Crack one in half.)

However, your most sensitive indicator of quality is the horse. If he sorts through, pushing the pellets around, dumping some before he settles down to eat, or if he leaves pellets in the tub, you may have pellet-quality problems. Rabbit keepers, who use a lot of pelleted feed, even have a name for the behavior. They call it ’scrabbling.’

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