The label on your horse’s feed bag provides valuable information to help you make feeding decisions for your horse.
Known as the feed tag, this label describes the nutritional composition of your horse’s feed and how it is intended to be used.
Whether you are looking for the right high-protein feed for your growing foal or a low-fat feed for your easy keeper, the feed tag can help you decide.
But unless you have a degree in equine nutrition and an affinity for mental math, it can be difficult to interpret all of the information presented on the feed tag.
Fortunately, feed manufacturers are required by law to include certain information on the tag in a standardized form. This makes it easy to compare feeds and select the most appropriate one for your horse.
In this article, we will help you understand all of the information presented on a standard feed tag and give you some important tips for selecting feed.
If you need help choosing a feed for your horse, you can browse our feed database which contains information on over 2,500 feeds. You can also submit your horse’s information online and our nutritionists can assist you for free.
The following is a sample feed tag showing the standard components. Each of these parts of the feed tag is explained in further delay below.
Product Name: The name should be appropriate based on what the product is designed to do. Product names cannot imply any health-benefit claims that cannot be proven.
Purpose Statement: In the United States, this statement describes the type of horse this product is designed for, such as a pregnant or senior horse. It also describes the intended use of the feed, such as for maintenance or weight gain.
In Canada, this statement describes the form of the feed (if it is in a form other than a mash), such as a pelleted or liquid feed.
Selenium Statement: Only required on Canadian feeds, this statement describes the selenium content of the feed in mg per kg.
Guaranteed Analysis: This section provides information on the concentration of basic nutrients in the feed.
Ingredient Statement: In the US, all ingredients are required to be listed on the feed tag in order of inclusion by weight.
In Canada, the feed label does not have to provide an ingredient list, but can instead direct the customer to contact the manufacturer to receive the ingredients list.
Directions for Use: This section should describe how much of the feed to provide a horse based on body weight and other considerations. It must contain enough detail so that the consumer can safely and effectively use the feed.
If the product is fortified with minerals and vitamins, manufacturers set the feeding rate to ensure that the horse receives the correct amount of nutrients to match body weight.
Manufacturer’s Info: This tells you the name of the company that manufactured the feed and where they are located. Contact information may or may not be provided.
Net Weight: The total weight of the feed product.
The Guaranteed Analysis
The guaranteed analysis (GA) contains information about the levels of certain macronutrients, vitamins and minerals found in your horse’s feed bag.
In the US, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) dictates the nutrients that must be listed on the GA for all fortified horse feeds.
While the GA contains some of the most useful information on the feed tag, it can be difficult to interpret. The numbers shown describe the concentrations of nutrients in the feed and not the actual amounts.
You will need to do some math to calculate the actual quantities for the individual nutrients in your horse’s diet.
Below is a description of all of the nutrient values that are required to be listed in the GA under US law.
These are the nutrients that your horse requires in large amounts, such as fat, carbohydrates, and protein. The following macronutrients will be listed on the GA.
- Minimum percent crude protein (CP)
- Minimum percent crude fat (fat)
- Maximum percent crude fiber (CF)
- Maximum percent acid detergent fibre (ADF)
- Maximum percent neutral detergent fibre (NDF)
These are minerals that are required in larger quantities in the equine diet. Macromineral requirements for horses are typically stated in terms of grams per day.
- Minimum percent of calcium (Ca)
- Maximum percent of calcium (Ca)
- Minimum percent of phosphorus (P)
Trace Minerals & Vitamins
Trace minerals (microminerals) are required in smaller quantities compared to macrominerals. Trace mineral requirements for horses are typically stated in milligrams per day.
Vitamins are organic substances that are required in the horse’s diet.
- Minimum copper (Cu) concentration in parts per million (ppm)
- Minimum selenium (Se) concentration in ppm
- Minimum zinc (Zn) concentration in ppm
- Minimum vitamin A in International Units (IU)
Nutrients that are present at insignificant levels are not required on the feed tag.
Canadian Feed Tag Regulations
The regulations for feed tags in Canada are slightly different. In addition to the nutrients listed above, Canadian feed tags also generally list:
- Macrominerals (as percentages)
- Vitamins (in IU/kg)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Added microminerals (in mg/kg)
Nutrients on the Guaranteed Analysis
What do all of the nutrient values on the Guaranteed Analysis mean and how do you make feeding decisions for your horse based on the numbers presented?
Below, we explain the nutrients that must be present on the feed tag and how they impact the nutritional profile of your horse’s diet.
Crude Protein (CP)
Crude protein provides an estimate of the minimum amount of protein supplied by the feed. This value is referred to as crude because it measures total nitrogen content, not the actual protein content.
Your horse’s total diet should supply between 8-14% crude protein. Unless they are growing, lactating, or in hard work, good-quality hay will usually meet a horse’s protein requirements.
Protein is made of building blocks known as amino acids. There are 21 amino acids that make up the proteins in a horse’s body and ten of these are considered essential in the diet.
In some cases, your horse may be getting adequate protein in the diet but may not be getting enough of the essential amino acids. Deficiency in one or more of the so-called limiting amino acids could have negative effects.
If you are looking for a protein supplement for your horse, choose proteins with a balanced amino acid profile that include the three common limiting amino acids:
- Lysine: Soybean meal, canola meal and alfalfa meal
- Methionine: Alfalfa, flax, rice bran, sunflower seeds or beet pulp
- Threonine: found in most plant and animal protein ingredients
Animal proteins, such as those from milk, have a balanced amino acid profile. Individual amino acids can also be directly added to your horse’s diet.
Crude fat provides an estimate of the minimum amount of fat in a feed. Fats are calorie-dense and contain over two times the energy per gram found in carbohydrates and proteins. Equine diets typically contain less than 8% fat, but horses with high energy demands can be adapted to diets that contain up to 20% fat.
Feeds with a high level of crude fat are often designed as energy supplements for horses that require additional calories and that are sensitive to starches and sugars.
Fibres are carbohydrates that provide plants with structural support. Structural fibres in the plant’s cell walls can be broken into four categories:
- Soluble fibres
Soluble fibres are easily digestible by the horse, meaning they are broken down into sugars and absorbed from the gut.
Insoluble fibres vary in digestibility. Hemicellulose is approximately 50% digestible, while lignin is completely indigestible. 
Although structural fibres are not energy-dense, they play an important role in maintaining digestive tract health.
Several different estimates of fibre content can be provided on a guaranteed analysis:
- Crude Fibre
- Acid Detergent Fibre
- Neutral Detergent Fibre
Crude fibre indicates the maximum amount of indigestible fibres in your feed.
Crude fibre is the name given to fibres left behind after a chemical treatment that removes all the digestible plant material. Although they are not digestible by your horse, some of these fibres can be fermented by microbes in the horse’s hindgut.
As the crude fibre content in a feedstuff increases, the energy content decreases. Feeds with less than 10% fibre tend to be energy-dense and should be fed with care.
Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF)
ADF is a measure of the least digestible plant components, including cellulose and lignin. ADF and crude fibre are theoretically measurements of the same plant components, just estimated with different methods.
ADF tends to be higher than crude fibre because its measurement method captures more cellulose.
Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF)
NDF is a rough estimate of the total insoluble fibre in a feed. It represents hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin.
The difference between NDF and ADF is the hemicellulose content of a feed. Hemicellulose is relatively fermentable in the horse’s hindgut.
Calcium and Phosphorus
Calcium and phosphorus are important minerals for bone growth and play important roles in metabolic function.
The ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet ranges from 1.5:1 to 4:1, depending on the physiological status of the horse. For example, a ratio of 1.5:1 means that for every 1.5 grams of calcium, a horse should consume 1 gram of phosphorus.
Typically, the calcium content in a feed product will be higher than the phosphorus content. However, some forages may require more phosphorus to balance the diet.
Copper, Zinc and Selenium
These micro-minerals are required in very small amounts, but their presence is crucial for your horse’s health.
Information Not on the Guaranteed Analysis
Energy & Calories
The calorie content in your horse’s feed is quantified by the amount of digestible energy (DE) that it contains, as measured in megacalories (Mcal/kg) – a thousand kilocalories per kilogram.
Low energy feeds will provide 2.0 – 2.5 Mcal/kg, while higher energy feeds will provide greater than 3.0 Mcal/kg.
Currently, manufacturers do not have to provide this information on the tag. However, you can use the rest of the information in the guaranteed analysis to determine whether a product is high or low energy.
First, refer to the purpose statement at the top of the label to tell you what kind of horse this product is designed for. Feeds intended for performance horses, hard keepers and growing horses tend to be more calorie-dense, while feeds for horses at maintenance or metabolic horses are less calorie-dense.
Next, check the guaranteed analysis to determine the fat and fibre content. High fat feeds with greater than 6-8% crude fat tend to be high in digestible energy.
High fibre feeds tend to be lower in energy, but not all fibre is equal in calorie content. Some fibre sources, such as beet pulp, are highly digestible and are great energy sources.
Lastly, take a look at the first few ingredients in the ingredient list.
Estimates of digestible energy content of ingredients
The following is a rough estimate of the energy content for common ingredients:
- Roughage ingredients usually have a DE of 2.2-2.5 Mcal/kg
- Beet pulp or other sources of digestible fibre have a DE of around 2.6-3.0 Mcal/kg
- Grains have a higher energy content, usually above 3.3 Mcal/kg. This energy comes from starch and should not be over-fe