Choosing A Fat Supplement For Your Horse

―Nettie R. Liburt, PhD, PAS and Kristen M. Janicki, MS, PAS of Mars Horsecare US/BUCKEYE™ Nutrition

If you’ve ever had a horse who was a hard keeper, a picky eater, or simply a hard-worker that just needs a lot of feed to keep up with the demands of performance, you know how challenging it can be to help that horse maintain weight. In many of these cases, nutritionists may recommend adding calories with a fat supplement. Fat supplements come in many different forms, and the decision on which to incorporate into your horse’s nutrition program depends on several factors, including:

  • Calorie or energy needs of the horse
  • Palatability (taste and acceptance)
  • Feeding rate
  • Cost
  • Convenience/Preference

Fat supplements differ in the amount of calories they deliver and how they are fed to the horse. BUCKEYE™ Nutrition offers several high-quality fat supplements in our ULTIMATE FINISH™ portfolio (Table 1) to accommodate the needs of a variety of horses.

Product TypeCalories/unit% FatForm
Vegetable Oil (generic)1980 kcal per cup100%Oil
ULTIMATE FINISH SRB+1380 per pound18-25%Extruded nugget
ULTIMATE FINISH 251760 per pound25%Extruded nugget
ULTIMATE FINISH 40100 per ounce 424 per 4 oz40%Soft pellet
ULTIMATE FINISH 100250 per ounce 1024 per 4 oz99.9%Prilled/Granule

Table 1. Examples of BUCKEYE Nutrition’s fat supplements compared to generic vegetable oil, including calories, fat content, and form.

Types of Fat Supplements

Oil

Oil can come from many different sources, such as vegetable, canola, soybean and rice bran, and is just about 100% fat. One of the main pros of oil is the concentrated amount of calories in a relatively small inclusion rate, registering at about 1,980 kilocalories per cup. Oil can be easily top dressed onto commercial feeds or mixed in things like soaked beet pulp or hay cubes. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to come by. The main drawback is that it is a mess! Not all horses like oil added to their rations, and any leave-behinds must be cleaned up so as not to spoil or attract bugs. Oil must also be carefully stored to avoid rancidity.

ULTIMATE FINISH SRB+

Rice bran is the outer layer of the rice kernel and is a popular feed additive for calories. ULTIMATE FINISH SRB+ contains 18% crude fat minimum from stabilized rice bran and is fortified with calcium to provide a correct calcium-to-phosphorous ratio. Flaxseed is added to provide omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E provides antioxidant support.

Rice bran is generally well accepted by horses and it smells good. It provides high calories at a relatively low feeding rate (approximately 1,380 kilocalories per pound). Rice bran is often sold as “stabilized” rice bran, a process that involves heating the product under pressure to deactivate an enzyme (lipase) that will cause the fat to otherwise break down. This results in a shelf-stable product that stays fresh for 120 days from the date of manufacture. Because the feeding rate is low (1-3 lb/day), the bag will also last longer in the feed room compared to concentrate feeds, the latter of which are typically used up in a few days.

ULTIMATE FINISH 25

ULTIMATE FINISH 25 is an extruded nugget containing 25% crude fat minimum. Extrusion is essentially the same as pressure cooking, where ingredients are cooked under high temperature and pressure for shorter periods of time in order to preserve nutrients.

The process of extrusion also allows a higher inclusion rate of fat without the product falling apart or becoming mushy. This product also has a low feeding rate, high palatability, and additional mineral fortification to ensure proper balance in the diet. ULTIMATE FINISH 25 comes in a 40-lb bag, which may last up to 40-80 days depending on the feeding rate, so it’s best to have an extra storage bin. This type of product is ideal when calories are needed for weight or performance, especially when a horse is already consuming a ration balancer or concentrate daily, or if one desires to keep the volume of the ration from getting too big.

ULTIMATE FINISH 40

ULTIMATE FINISH 40 is a soft pellet containing 40% minimum crude fat and an enticing caramel flavor. The soft pellet form is easy for all horses, especially those with dental issues, to consume while providing concentrated calories from fat. This product contains less than 10% non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) and is safe for horses with metabolic concerns, polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), or any horse needing reduced dietary carbohydrates. It is fortified with calcium and phosphorus in an ideal ratio and contains a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed.

ULTIMATE FINISH 100

ULTIMATE FINISH 100 is prilled (similar to a granule) and contains 99.9% fat. Prilling is a process by which fat is converted into spherical pellets usually by forming into drops in a spray and allowing the drops to solidify producing a granular form. A major benefit is the product contains high calories with low bulk and is in a form that is easier to feed and less messy than oil. Horses generally like it, and it will stick to feed or mix well in a soaked ration. There is typically no additional fortification, and while the cost may appear higher than other options, remember to consider the feeding rate and how long the product will last you. This type of product is usually great for enhancing coat and skin health.

TypeFormSuggested feeding rate for weight gain (1,100 lb horse)Consider this if your horse is…
OilLiquid¼-1 cup per dayNot a picky eater
ULTIMATE FINISH SRB+Extruded Pellet1 to 2 pounds per dayNeeding cost-effective skin, coat & weight support with rich fatty acids
ULTIMATE FINISH 25Extruded Nugget½ to 3 pounds per dayNeeding to gain weight, is hard keeper, or needs calories beyond forage or concentrate. Also supports skin & coat health
Ultimate Finish 40Soft Pellet2-8 ounces per dayNeeding a low carbohydrate source of calories or has dental issues.
Ultimate Finish 100Prill/granule2-8 ounces per dayEating a large volume of grain per day and still needs calories for weight. Contains no carbohydrates.

Table 2. Choosing a fat supplement based on the individual horse’s needs, including typical feeding rates and supplement form.

Summary

Always remember to consider the individual horse when deciding if the horse needs a fat supplement in the first place and then which form will work best for your management situation. From taste preferences, pickiness and calorie content, there are options to suit many situations. When adding a fat supplement, or any new feed into a horse’s diet, be sure to do so slowly over the course of 10-14 days to avoid digestive upsets.  When in doubt, always contact a qualified equine nutritionist for advice.