Update on feeding flax seed

After I wrote, Flax Seed: How and why to feed it, I got an excellent question from a reader.
Anne wrote, “Could you tell me your source for the ‘current research’ on feeding flax seed whole. I would like to read how this research was done and by whom.”

I do keep track of my sources for articles, but when I looked back at my notes, I found that I had quoted the “current research” statement from this article,  Understanding Horse Nutrition: Flax Seed which does not publish a source. Typical internet, right? Someone says something unverified and then it’s plastered across the web as the gospel truth. However, I’d also discussed this with a vet and a nutritionist and know several people besides myself who feed whole flax seed (I know, plural anecdotes do not equal data).

I circled back and got this answer from the nutritionist.

There is very little research on digestibility of flax in equines at all, of any kind, it’s nearly all been done on cattle or humans.

But,  for what it’s worth, here’s my opinion. the Omega 3s in flax are VERY sensitive to light and air, once ground it loses the Omega 3s very fast. Stabilizing (usually a heat treatment) does not preserve the Omega 3s it only stops the cyanide production.

So the best way to get the O3s into the horse is to feed freshly ground flax, but if you can’t do that then feed whole flax they can digest around 50% of it and they get more O3s that way.

Remember horses have good teeth (unlike cattle) and an acid environment in the stomach (unlike cattle) both of those act to split the seed coat and allow access to the seed for digestion.

That’s why you don’t see a difference whether you feed whole flax or ground flax.

I have 40 horses on flax no way could I grind for all of those.

So there you have it. Just remember that if you choose to grind flax seed daily it’s very important that you clean the grinder thoroughly. The flax that remains in the grinder quickly goes rancid and will contaminate the next batch.

As for me, I will continue to feed the whole seeds. I like the convenience and the price. Heck, I’ll just feed slightly more so that they get their full dose of Omega 3s.

4 thoughts on “Update on feeding flax seed

  1. thanks for posting this and doing the research. i too feed whole flax, and i’m not in a position to grind it daily for all of them, so i just feed a little extra and hope for the best. so far it seems to be working just fine 🙂

  2. I feed my horse ground flax seed mixed with water to make a doughy type mixture. Is this bad for him? It may be old also. Not too old, like over a 2 years, but a couple months. Is this ok as well? I just bought his tack room and it came with ground flax in it which is why I’m asking. PLEASE respond! I don’t want to feed him a toxin!!!

    1. I doubt that feeding your horse old flax seed is going to hurt him unless the flax seed has gone rancid. Just make sure that it doesn’t smell bad. More likely, most of the nutrients in the flax have degraded. Flax seed, unless it’s stabilized, degrades soon after it’s ground. That’s why many people keep a grinder in their tack room and grind the flax seed right before feeding. Some commercial products are stabilized so that they do not degrade. Is the flax seed you are feeding in its original packaging?

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