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Feeding Straight Corn to HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 5, 2016

Every horseman knows that corn is a suitable feedstuff for horses. In fact, it is often an ingredient in high-quality feeds, though it is usually cracked or steam-flaked, processing strategies that increase its digestibility and thus its caloric contribution to the diet. Some owners like to feed corn straight from the field, either on the cob or shucked. Did you know these four facts about straight corn?

1) Few horses object to finding corn in their feed bins. “Palatability seems to be similar whether corn is fed straight from the ear or whether it has undergone processing,” said Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER). In taste tests, horses seem to prefer only oats to corn when compared with other common grains such barley and wheat. As long as a horse’s teeth, especially its molars, are sound and free of disease, horses have no trouble breaking the tough outer coat of the kernels, which exposes the nutritious center to digestive enzymes.

2) While most horses prefer the taste of oats, corn packs a wallop in terms of energy delivery. In fact, according to Whitehouse, corn has significantly more energy than an equal volume of oats. This energy density is how corn got a reputation for causing obesity or high-strung behavior; when compared to an equal volume of oats, the corn-fed horse will have consumed much more energy. If equal amounts of energy are fed, corn does not cause horses to be any more susceptible to weight gain or excitability.

3) Old-timers often cite corn as a “heating feed,” one that increases internal heat production. This way of thinking is so entrenched in some horse owners’ minds that they will purposely feed corn only in the winter. Fact is, this simply isn’t true. Though corn is high in energy, as already mentioned, the heat produced in the utilization of corn is about one-third less than that generated from the utilization of oats. Why? “Corn is lower in fiber than oats, and heat production depends on the microbial fermentation of fiber,” explained Whitehouse.

4) Many horse owners shy away from feeding corn directly from the field because it might be infected with certain toxins, including fumonisin, which is produced by fusarium fungi that infect corn plants before harvest. Stressors such as weather and insect damage can make plants more vulnerable to fusarium. When fed corn contaminated with fumonisin, horses are at risk for a neurological disease called equine leukoencephalomalacia, also known as blind staggers. Fumonisin-contaminated corn kernels may or may not reveal contamination on visual appraisal. Reputable feed manufacturers conduct testing to be sure fumonisin levels are well below detrimental levels before including it in horse feeds.

Do you have questions about feeding your horse corn? Ask a nutrition specialist today!