What the deal with bran mashes? Good or no good?
Why are there no cut and dry answers? What’s up with that? You can basically divide wheat bran mashes up into pros and cons. So here we go. But first, let me be clear that I’m talking about wheat bran, not rice bran. Rice bran is commonly used as a fat source for performance horses and can help the older horse keep some weight.
Some of the pros of wheat bran mashes:
- It’s inexpensive to give as a treat.
- It’s tasty. Most horses love it!
- It’s easy to store and easy to make (just add water!)
- You can hide some medications in a bran mash.
And the cons of wheat bran mashes for horses:
- As a source of nutrition, it’s super expensive because you have to feed way too much to get any nutrition. Except for phosphorus - there's a boat load of that.
- The calcium and phosphorus ration is out of whack - there is so much phosphorus in wheat bran that the horse’s body tries to compensate by taking calcium from the bones to balance this in the gut.
- There’s very little fiber - about 10%. Your average hay has 30% fiber. So, if you give a wheat bran mash for an upset tummy or colic in hopes of adding fiber, the loosened manure is due to a sudden diet change and not a high fiber meal. Of course follow the instructions of your Veterinarian, and if adding a mash for fiber and hydration for a few meals is part of the recovery, discuss using your horse’s regular feed in a super soupy concoction if you think your horse may not do well with a wheat bran mash.
- Long term feeding of wheat bran can lead to skeletal problems, especially in young horses as more and more calcium is removed from the bones. Hyperthyroidism is also a concern, which leads to enlargement of the facial bones and weakening of other bones.
- There is very little heat generated by feeding wheat bran in a warm mash. If you want to warm up your horse on a cold night, feed more forage (hay) that generates heat as it ferments over hours in your horse’s gut over several hours.
Of course if you want to feed wheat bran as a regular part of your horse’s diet, do so with the help of an Equine Nutritionist so that your horse’s calcium and phosphorus ratio stays balanced. A good rule of thumb is that no more than 10% of your horse’s meal should be wheat bran.
I personally stay away from giving a weekly wheat bran mash treat for the very reason that you are not feeding it every day, so there’s a chance of digestive distress - so why give this to a horse with colic? And besides, I would rather give a small piece of carrot or apple as a treat daily, after my horse has done something awesome to earn it. (Sometimes he’s just looking cute and that’s treat worthy enough.) That being said, many horses do just fine with a weekly wheat bran mash. It’s up to you to notice if your horse doesn’t do well with one.
What are your thoughts on wheat bran mashes?