Calories, density and NSCs: Understanding different feeds


This month I decided to review Freedom’s feeding regime. Sure, it’s working, but I wanted to compare different feeds to determine what would give me the best nutritional profile, the amount of calories he needs to hold his weight, and low enough starch — non structural carbohydrates, or NSCs — to keep him from getting too hot.

I’ve been using http://www.feedxl.com as a starting point and it’s a darn good program for making some basic comparisons. The $15 fee for a one-month subscription makes it easy to play with quantities and feeds without subjecting your horse to the experiment. But the deeper into this I got, the more I wanted to know.

Quart measurements are misleading

One of the most confusing things about feeds is that they do not all weigh the same amount. So, if you feed by quarts, changing feeds could mean that your horse either ends up with a calorie/nutrition deficit or is fed too much. The differences are significant with some feeds weighing close to 1.5 lbs per quart and others weighing in at less than a pound. Calories per pound are also an important component of the equation so once you figure out how much a quart of a specific feed weighs, you have a better idea of how many calories you’re feeding.

NSC % varies significantly among feeds

For a horse like Freedom who is sensitive to starch, the NSC % of a feed is an important component. Some of the higher calorie feeds (he needs calories) are undermined by their high starch content. In fact, it’s difficult to find a high fat feed with an NSC lower than 16% (that’s where Ultium is on the scale). So to increase calorie consumption, you either need to feed more of a low NSC source . . . or add straight fat, like oil.

To help me figure out my plan for the winter, I’ve pulled together a chart that shows the feeds in my geographic area with their calories/pound, NSC rating and lb/quart. This is a work in progress. Feed companies like Blue Seal and Triple Crown helpfully publish this data on their websites; Purina does not. I’ll be sending an email to Purina to verify some of this data and will fill in the chart as I learn more.

In the meantime, let me know if you have information to add.

Freedom’s diet

What am I considering? To increase Freedom’s calorie content I introduced some Triple Crown Low Starch feed into his diet about a month ago. I’m still feeding alfalfa pellets, beet pulp and a ration balancer (although I’ve been able to cut back on how much of that I feed). I had the choice, really, of feeding five pounds of TC Low Starch and no ration balancer or 2.5 lbs of TC and a pound of the ration balancer). Since he’s holding his weight right now I went with the smaller amount of complete feed plus the ration balancer with the knowledge that I can add more as needed if he starts to drop weight over the winter.

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11 responses

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing! I feed my older gelding Triple Crown Senior and my TB mare Equilux Wellness. Both are low NSC because I feel it’s just better for their overall health though they haven’t shown signs of being sensitive to higher amounts. I definitely didn’t know that rice bran was at 21.2%, I would have guessed lower than that. Really interesting to compare the different feeds.

  2. Pingback: How do you evaluate feeding options? | EQUINE Ink

  3. Purina Strategy Healthy Edge is 17% NSC and 1300 cal./lb.
    Purina Edge 6% fat is 26% NSC
    Purina Edge 4 1/2 % fat is 32% NSC

    i’m still trying to figure out what to feed my 14 yr. old TB to keep him from getting too hot. His is a fairly easy keeper. I would like to keep the NSC % below 18.

    Purina does not publish this info on their website; I had to call them. Also, I cannot find the ingredients on the site either. That kind of lack of information makes me uncomfortable.

    • That is why I ultimately decided to go with Triple Crown feeds. I like the fact that the information is so readily available. My TB does very well on Triple Crown Senior (he’s 12) although I add Purina Amplify and some oil to it to boost the calories. Another horse in the barn, who is a very easy keeper, also does well on TC senior.

      • Ingredients for Purina (which is what my barn feeds) is very vague. Something like grain by products which could mean anything. At first I was considering the Strategy Healthy Edge but there are many reviews on the forums which claim it makes a horse “like he’s on crack”. Certainly not what I need at my age ;-)

        Do you have an opinion on the Pennfield feeds?

  4. Wow, thank you so much! Great work, very helpful. I’m pretty anti-concentrate due to ulcers and colic risks,, but my 18 yr old saddlebred is a hard keeper in the winter so its important I get the most bang for my buck for the least amount of grain needed. If you or any readers are in New England, Nutrena makes a textured feed just distributed in our area called Nutrena High Fat Performance Pellet (its sticky though). It is also known as “the black bag”. I’ve heard it may be a blend of Safechoice and Empower. Here are the stats: 12% protein, 13% fat, 1584 Kcal per pound, 14.1% non structural carbohydrates. Retails for about $19.50 for 50 lb bag here in CT.

    • I have my horse on healthy edge and he is very crazy im thinking about switching to the nutrena black bag high fat pellet–plus is a 17h tb. any info on that black bag? i heard it doesnt make the horse hot

      • Lots of people seem to like that feed for horses that need weight. I haven’t seen NSC info on it but it’s high in fat and is a beet pulp based feed.

    • Mellissa, I too have had saddlebreds that wintered badly every year. When the grass dies down, I put them on Ration Plus. It is a prebiotic, you use only six drops on their feed and they hold their weight beutifully, and you more than save the price of the product in the lesser amounts of concentrates needed to hold their weight.

  5. Pingback: Feed by weight, not by volume | EQUINE Ink

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