Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards. Go to www.horsecoursesonline.com for more information. Contact Eleanor at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 616-8414. Be sure to visit Eleanor's web site at www.thewayofhorses.com
Feeding Horses Bird Feed?
By Eleanor Richards
Why do we do that to horses?
Who did the research?
What are the short-term, long-term benefits?
Is it good for horses?
I think about a lot of things concerning horses and nutrition. Today it is black oil sunflower seeds, commonly known in the horse world as BOSS. Yes, the same black oil sunflower seeds fed to birds.
Why the current fad of feeding black oil sunflower seeds to horses?
The number one reason is better coat condition. The coat improves because of the high oil (fat) content.
The second reason is price. Pound for pound BOSS is usually less expensive than other supplements used for coat condition.
So that's why we do it.
But who did the research and determined the nutritional recommendations for black oil sunflowers relating to equines? Apparently no one!
Consult the National Research Council's book Nutrient Requirements of Horses (2007) and no where are black oil sunflowers mentioned. Sunflower meal is listed in the nutrient composition chart, but not whole seeds. The presence of the hull will change the nutrient levels.
I used several internet search engines to research nutrient levels, feeding recommendations, scientific research results and the only thing I could find were forums or chat rooms. One or two were monitored by veterinarians and they stated there is not enough research to offer solid advice about feeding black oil sunflowers.
Examine the ingredient list on the most popular commercial coat conditioners. The ingredients may include: alfalfa, flax, rice bran, soybean meal, corn oil and others. But not one product lists whole sunflowers.
I wonder why?
It could be because of the high level of omega-6 fatty acids in BOSS.
There are two fatty acids that cannot be produced within the body. These are omega-3 (linolenic) and omega-6 (linoleic).
When the two are in balance they can offer anti-inflammatory properties. But no one knows the balance for horses.
Research in humans and dogs have shown when omega-6 is too high arachidonic acid is produced increasing inflammation, the chances of osteoarthritis, decreased bone formation and decreasing the allergy fighting properties omega-3 provides.
Here's the catch for black oil sunflower seeds - it's high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 is almost non-existent.
The equine diet does not require omega-6 fatty acids to be supplemented. It occurs naturally in grains and most forage. On the other hand, unless a horse has access to fresh green grass omega-3 may have to be supplemented.
Common sense tells us that adding more omega-6 fatty acid to the diet by feeding black oil sunflowers is probably not a great idea.
Another question we need to ask is how digestible is BOSS? Think about birds, squirrels and even humans…the hull is removed before eating. So why would we feed them whole to horses?
No research has been conducted to determine if the equine digestive system can utilize whole black sunflowers. Counting the number of plants that come up in the manure pile is not scientific research.
Ask any commercial sunflower seed producer about the soil type, growing conditions, fertilizer, moisture required and soil temperature needed to grow sunflowers. I doubt the answer is "a horse-manure pile is perfect". Keep in mind that the BOSS you are buying at the feed store or Wal-Mart is not certified seed.
The short-term benefits of a healthy coat may not outweigh the possible long-term health risks.
Until research proves feeding horses whole black oil sunflowers seeds is beneficial I think I will stay with elbow-grease (good grooming) and a balanced diet.