A research project undertaken by Kentucky Equine Research looked at whether adding flavoring to plain oats changed eating preferences of test horses. The results showed that horses would eat more oats per minute if they were flavored with cherry as opposed to plain, teaberry, citrus or apple.
The KER research noted that a previous study had looked at adding apple, caramel or anise to a pelleted horse diet. Those researchers had found no improvement in feed consumption with those flavors.
However, since fruit flavors are often added to horse feeds, KER’s nutritionists wanted to know if the rate of intake of plain oats could be improved by using fruit flavors, and which of the flavors were preferred by horses.
The researchers used eight mature Thoroughbreds (two mares and six geldings). They used apple, cherry, teaberry and citrus flavorings on 2 kg of whole oats. Two horses per period were offered each treatment along with a control of the same amount of plain whole oats in buckets hanging side-by-side in a 10’ by 10’ box stall.
The control bucket had 100 ml of plain water added and the test buckets had 2 grams of flavoring dissolved in 100 ml of water added. KER researchers noted that the level of flavor inclusion was typical of the amount used in horse feeds.
The horses were given five minutes to eat from both buckets. The amount of oats left in the buckets was recorded. “Each treatment was offered for three consecutive days, in the morning and in the afternoon. The control and treatment buckets were switched at each feeding,” noted the study results.
The researchers found that the flavored oats were consumed at a higher rate than the plain oats. “The flavored oats were consumed at an average rate of 147 g/minute while the rate of intake for the plain oats was 130.5 g/minute,” noted the report.
The cherry-flavored oats were the most popular and were consumed at a “significantly” higher rate compared to the plain oats (153 g/minute versus 133 g/minute).
The research showed that horses preferred cherry-flavored oats. The apple, citrus, and teaberry flavorings were equal in preference, and plain oats had the lowest preference in this study.
“The results of this study suggest that the palatability of oats can be slightly improved by the addition of fruit flavors,” noted the research report.
The KER researchers stated that more research is needed to more clearly define the role that flavors play in enhancing palatability of horse rations.
The complete study can be found here.