How Sweet It Is!
By Eleanor Blazer
         Awww...the sweet smells of a horse barn - the horses, the hay, the manure, the feed!  There is nothing like opening a bag of fresh horse feed and taking in the aroma.

          What is the source of that enticing smell?  Many would answer, "molasses!" And that would be true.  But it might be surprising to learn that not just molasses is used in the modern horse feed ration.  Most feed companies use a blend of molasses and oil.

          Molasses has been used for centuries in animal feed. It increases palatability (makes it taste good), helps control dust, prevents separation of the ingredients and adds some nutrients to the diet.   But there are a few challenges.

          It freezes.   When the temperature dips below freezing a familiar sound in the feed room is the chipping away at the big block of frozen sweet feed.  The addition of oil to the feed mix helps keep the feed from freezing into a solid mass.

          It dries out.  Low humidity can cause the sweet feed to dry out.  The addition of oil will help keep the feed moist and pleasing to the horse.

          It builds up on manufacturing equipment.  Feed mills add oil to keep the molasses from adhering to the mixer and augers.

          One of the myths about feeding "sweet feed" is that the molasses will increase starch and sugar levels (non-structural carbohydrates - NSC's).  Horse owners feel the molasses will make their horse have more energy, be harder to handle, and be prone to metabolic disorders such as equine polysaccharide storage myopathy and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (equine Cushing disease).

          The truth is, the amount of molasses in feed formulas is less than 10%, the average is approximately 5%.  NSC levels available through other ingredients such as oats, corn and barley is of more concern.  

           Eric Haydt, RAS, Senior Vice President of Triple Crown Feed says, "For instance, a pelleted feed with no molasses but contains corn, oats or barley could easily have an NSC value of 40% to 50%.  A textured feed like Triple Crown Senior contains molasses but the balance of the ingredients are very low in starch and sugar content, so the average NSC value is 12%."

          One concern for owners of a horse with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) is the potassium level of feed, and molasses is a great source of potassium.   Horses with HYPP cannot tolerate high levels of potassium - it will trigger an attack of muscle tremors or "tying-up".  Owners of positive HYPP horses must keep the overall potassium level in the diet below 1%, this includes forage, supplements and grain.  Avoiding feeds with molasses can help keep that percentage low.  Consult your veterinarian, equine nutrition consultant or feed specialist for assistance.

           Haydt also mentions the shelf life of horse feeds, "We would like to see textured feeds used within 60 days in the summer, and within 90 days in the winter.  So much depends on storage conditions, temperature and humidity." 

          It's been said, "Feeding horses is both a science and an art."  Providing your horse with a feed that he likes, and is designed for his age, health, activity level and forage quality is a testimony to that statement.  A little molasses may help in that search.

* For information about nutrition and horse care take the online courses Nutrition For Maximum Performance and Stable Management taught by Eleanor Blazer. Earn certification or work toward a Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies.

Go to for more information. 

Visit Eleanor's web site at

Eleanor Blazer

Article Archives - Click Here For More Articles