Equine comfort food: the bran mash

Winter mashes from horsefaire.com

When I was growing up, we fed the horses a hot bran mash every Sunday. It’s  long standing tradition that was supposed to help prevent colic in working horses in theory because of the laxative effect of the wheat bran. During the winter, it seemed to be a great way to pamper our horses. Certainly it made us feel better.

Current understanding of equine nutrition puts the bran mash in a different light both in terms of its nutritional value and the wisdom of feeding it once a week.

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According to Horse Feeding Myths and Misconceptions, published by the Government of Alberta Canada’s Agriculture and Rural Development department:

Research has shown that bran does not have a laxative effect. Studies have found that adding wheat bran to the diet did not soften the stools. In fact, the moisture content of the manure was similar whether the horses received wheat bran or not. Instead, wheat bran increases the bulk of the manure, giving the appearance that the horse is dumping a bigger pile.

In fact, wheat bran provides energy and protein at levels similar to oats and should be treated more like grain than as forage. However, the bigger issue with wheat bran is that it’s very high in phosphorous compared to calcium (12 to 1 ratio) and that 90% of the phosphorous in bran is in the form of phytate which decreases the absorption of calcium copper, zinc and manganese.

Now this isn’t an issue if you feed small amounts of bran on occasion; but if you feed it daily, you need to make sure that the horse’s overall diet is balanced with enough calcium.

That brings us to the second point. I’ve watched horse people carefully migrate their horse to a new feed half a cup at a time over a period of two weeks. These same people cheerfully feed a bran mash with a coffee can full of wheat bran whenever it’s cold or for special occasions. It’s one of those “does not compute” moments!

Feeding small amounts of bran once a week probably doesn’t cause most horses any problem but keep in mind that you may be upsetting the microorganisms in your horse’s digestive tract and some horses are more sensitive to dietary change than others. Killing the good bacteria in a horse’s gut can result in diarrhea (which may be where bran gets its reputation for being a laxative).

How can you make your “feel good” snack more nutritious for your horse? If you want to give your horse a warm meal on a cold day and get a bit more water into him, you can always just add warm water to his existing ration. Most horse don’t mind this one bit.

Another choice is to feed soaked beet pulp or soaked hay cubes as part of their meal. I feed beet pulp on a daily basis anyway — in the winter I make it quite soupy and add a handful of carrot pieces and some rice bran (rice bran is generally stabilized so that you don’t have to worry about the phosphorous/calcium balance). On special occasions I might put some peppermints in. I add this to his regular feed, or sometimes give it to him for lunch. Either way he licks his dish clean.

For those of you who want a more elaborate recipe, here are a few that I found on the Internet.

Recipe 1

  • Add-1 Quart water to 1 cup beet pulp & 1 cup flax seeds. Let stand overnight. (Doubles in size so recipe is for aprox. 4-6 horses @ 1 cup each.)

In the morning:

  • Add-1 cup Whole Oats & 1/2 cup Barley (or Bran) and enough water to make a soupy appearance.
  • Bring to boil until water is almost gone (1/2 hour or so) then simmer for 4 to 6 hours adding more water as needed so mash does not smoke or burn. I will also use a crockpot if I’m doing a smallish amount (2-4 horses).
  • Serve warm w/carrots or apples!
  • It warms them up and they get a great start on a shiny spring coat.

Recipe 2

  • 2 cups of three different kinds of feed
  • 1/4 cup rice bran, optional
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 cups water
  • Peppermints
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 apple, loosely cut

Mix feed, honey, and water in a bowl and put in the microwave for 2 minutes. Add more water if needed. Add sugar, carrots, apples and mix well. Add peppermints. This mash can be refrigerated and reheated before serving. Be sure that the mash isn’t too hot before serving to your horse.

Source: Moniteau Saddle Club Horse Treats

Recipe 3

  • 1 or 2 T. salt
  • A ration of rolled, crushed or crimped oats
  • A few cut up carrots
  • A few cut up apples
  • 1 c. molasses or 2 T. linseed meal for extra tast
  • Mix all ingredients in a feed bucket. Combine with suitable quantity of boiling water (completely soaked up by oats). Cover and let steam until cool enough to feed to your horse. (30-45 minutes preparation time).

    Variation: Use applesauce instead of apples and carrots.

    Source: Fruit From Washington Pet Recipes

    Recipe 4

    • 8 – 12 c. wheat bran
    • 1 c. rolled, crushed or crimped oats
    • 1/4 c. corn oil
    • 1/4 c. molasses
    • 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 c. boiling water
    • 1 carrot, sliced
    • 1 apple sliced

    Combine bran and oats in feed bucket. Add boiling water to desired consistency. Stir in oil, molasses, carrot and apple. Cover and allow to sit. Serve when cool enough to feed.

    Source: Fruit From Washington Pet Recipes

    Recipe 5

    • 2 quarts bran
    • 7 cups of hot tap water
    • 1/3 cup of “scraped” carrots
    • 1/4 cup of chopped apple
    • 1/2 cup molasses

    Put bran In a small feed bucket. Stir in hot tap water (should be moist , like porridge). Sprinkle on carrots (“scraped” means: cut the carrots like sharpening a pencil with a knife, you will get little carrot shavings!) and chopped apples. Dribble on molasses. Stir slightly with your finger to make sure the mash is not too hot!

    Source: www.horsefaire.com/creations.html

    2 thoughts on “Equine comfort food: the bran mash

    1. So oatmeal is safe to feed to horses – what about rice? As in what you buy in the supermarket? I can’t get a straight answer on this one. (:

    2. I have fed a bran mash to my horses for years. I lived in countries where you couldn’t buy grain. I buy, and cook, rolled barley with canola oil and boil. Then I add Omega 3 oil, calcium tabs and molasses stirring a lot. Then let it sit over night so the barley would absorb all the water. If it gets to dry, just add a bit more water. When mixed with the bran, consistency should be a dry crumbly. I have brought many rescued horses in and fattened them up with this and had no ill effects.

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