Feeding adequate protein

Feeding adequate protein

How much protein is in your horse feed? Is it meeting their requirements?

People tend to describe horse feeds at large, only in terms of what percent of protein it contains. I hear this, a lot!

“I feed a 12% … what do you feed?”



It’s for one, unclear, 12% what?

While it sounds silly and like you are bragging or something.

Therefore, it is not a proper way to describe your horse’s feed!

Protein is important, but it is NOT the most important nutrient in the feed. And horse owners need to not place so much emphasis on protein when making their feed selection.

Protein is neither the primary source of energy in the feed nor an indicator of its overall “quality”. In other words, if the bag has a higher % protein is NOT a “better feed” or the better choice for YOUR HORSE!

A mistake I have absolutely made! Confession time!

I am guilty of describing my horse’s grain only in reference to the percent protein.

I am guilty of feeding an inadequate amount of protein to my specific horse.

Time to change! I gotcha’ Learn on…

Protein Basics

Protein is the main structural component of the, made up of chains of amino acids. There are 22 to be exact! The body can “synthesize” (a fancy word for ‘make’) 12 of them, but the other 10 must come from the diet. These 10 are called Essential amino acids. The body must have all of these amino acids in order to make proteins, so if some or even one is missing, then production is halted, and the rest is flushed out of the body as urine.

Protein structure is a chain of amino acids
Pretty huh?! Looks like super fun confetti!

Who You Callin’ “Crude”?

The term “crude” used to describe the protein, is not really an exact measure of protein perse… it’s more of a measure of nitrogen content. Helpful right? Ya not really, basically the researchers who set this said, well protein is 16% nitrogen, I guess we can calculate “protein” from the amount of nitrogen in the feed.

So, that’s fine and dandy IF all of the nitrogen in the feed is ACTUALLY protein…

And it isn’t always…

That is where we have a fun discussion about protein Quality! A story for another time.

How Much Protein are you ACTUALLY Feeding?

Ohhh! Great question!

First of all, you need to know how much protein your horse needs. This information is found on the NRC (National Research Council for Animal Nutrition) charts. They are the super smart researchers who put it all in one place for us. So, here is the link…find the best match for your specific horse and grab the protein requirement.

Most noteworthy, far too many mature horse’s diet actually include too much protein, rather than too little. Plus the price usually reflects that of a high protein feed, because protein is expensive. Really you just get expensive urine…remember it comes right out if not usable!


YEEEHAAAA my urine is “Top-Dollar Yo”!

Furthermore, commercial feeds; I’m referring to the pre-mixed compound feeds, usually have between 8-16% crude protein.

According to the NRC charts, a mature horse at 1,200 lb in moderate work needs about 1.5-1.75 pounds of protein each day…

So, wait a minute…if it only tells you % protein on the bag, how the heck do you to figure out how many pounds you are actually feeding???

You have to do a little math…I wish it were an easy, math free answer…but nope…the math isn’t too bad and WELL WORTH the time to get it right.

oh no math horse


Oh NO…Math!

To determine the amount of protein you are ACTUALLY giving your horse, the weight of protein that is in the weight of feed you put in the bucket. With me?

Step 1: Identify % crude protein in the feed

Step 2: Identify the amount of feed you offer your horse (in pounds)

*You know the weight of feed because you have weighed it on a scale!

Step 3: % crude protein * pounds fed = how much protein by weight you are feeding

Example: I feed 10 lb of feed a day. It is 14% crude protein.

10 * .14  (14%) = 1.4 pounds of protein

My horse is 1,200lb in moderate work, he needs 1.5 – 1.75lb a day of protein…Is 1.4lb enough?

The answer is Yes…because it is super close to the range and I haven’t yet considered how much protein he consumes from his hay.

Will it be too much?… Maybe. Let’s see!

His hay is late-cut grass hay, which has around 5 to 9 percent protein. *(Legume hays are much higher around 15- 25 percent). Horses at a maintenance level should consume 2 – 2.5 percent of their body weight in forage a day. At 1,200lbs that is 24 – 30lb of hay a day.

20lb of late cut grass hay = 1.3lb of protein

1.3lb (hay) + 1.4lb (grain) = 2.7lb of protein

*That is more than enough protein, and even pushing too much. Therefore, I’d modify by reducing the amount of grain he receives or looking for a lower % crude protein option.

Sum it all up

To conclude this long-winded explanation, I’ll do a quick recap.

First of all, it is important to look at all the nutrients in the feed, not only the crude protein %.

Likewise, feeding too much protein can have negative side effects, like taxing the liver and kidney.

Hence, a little math wasn’t hard math, and so worth it! Because it will tell me the exact weight of protein in the bucket at feed time and if that meets the requirements of my horse.

Above all, pinky promise to not describe OR name the feed based solely on the protein % 🙂 It’s dorky and not helpful.

That’s all for now! Please share this with friends and family who you think might benefit. Sharing knowledge is AWESOME!!!

Happy Horsey-Days!

xo, Erica