Leading Industry Experts Discuss Oats and Equine Nutrition

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CHICAGO -- Leading industry experts gathered recently in Chicago to discuss the future of oat research and equine nutrition. The Equine Feed Oat Project brought together representatives from some of the top university equine programs in the country including: the University of Kentucky, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Florida, Michigan State University, Rutgers University, North Dakota State University and Texas A&M. In addition, oat millers from General Mills, PepsiCo-Quaker Oats and Viterra Oat and Specialty Grain Milling attended the meeting, along with representatives from Land O’Lakes Purina Feed, Agricultural Canada and the Prairie Oat Growers Association. 

This is the second meeting of its kind. In May 2011, the Prairie Oat Growers Association convened a first-of-its-kind summit in Minneapolis, Minn. as part of the Collaborative Oat Research Enterprise (CORE). CORE is a global research partnership of 28 oat research sites, including the United States Department of Agriculture, the North American Millers' Association, and the Prairie Oat Growers Association and is focused on the innovation of oats.

The Prairie Oat Growers Association has spent several years researching and funding several new oat varieties which are already being harvested today. In addition, POGA commissioned Dr. Laurie Lawrence of the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal & Food Sciences to review all of the research on oats that has been published over the last century. In her findings, Dr. Lawrence concludes that oats are the preferred grain for horses, and they have been for at least a century. Dr. Lawrence also writes that oats have several benefits for horses. Oats are highly palatable to horses, they are more easily digested than other grains like corn, they are typically higher in fiber than other grains and they are less likely to contain mycotoxins that threaten horse health. In addition, oats are a natural, safe, wholesome source of grain for horses, making them “The Horse-Healthy Grain.”

The meeting was held in Chicago on March 14-15. During the conference, attendees discussed the nutritional components of oats and their benefits in the equine diet. Since oats have proven health benefits for humans, researchers believe some of those same benefits may relate to horses.

“The Equine Feed Oat Project continues to seek new, scientific information on the nutritional benefits of oats in the equine industry,” said Randy Strychar, Project Manager of the Equine Feed Oat Project, an initiative of the Prairie Oat Growers Association. “It is critical for these groups to bring together their collective knowledge of the oat industry and to work together to enhance plant breeding in order to improve equine nutrition.”

The group evaluated nutrients contained in the oat hull that benefit horses, along with beneficial nutrients in the groat (whole oat without the hull). According to oat experts who attended the meeting, 25-30 percent of the oat’s nutritional value is in its hull. Equine nutritionists suggested breeding an oat with a higher-fiber (higher-energy), more digestible hull. Another nutritional component discussed was starch. The equine nutrition researchers indicated there is a common misconception among many horse owners that all starch is bad for horses. They explained starch is only harmful to some horses, such as those with metabolic disorders and those that are insulin-resistant. They said for the majority of horses, however, some starch is necessary, as it provides a major source of energy for the horse. The researchers, including an extensionist, emphasized that horse owners have expressed a desire to have access to factual, credible information about equine nutrition.

The meeting also identified potential areas for future research that will enhance the nutrition of the oat. One of the first research projects that will be completed as a result of the conference is a varietal compendium of the oat, including an analysis of the quantities of fat, protein, beta glucans, mineral composition, carbohydrate and antioxidant levels. Other potential research topics discussed include the ratio of calcium to phosphate, calcium deficiency in the oat and breeding a low-acid hull which would be more easily digested by horses. Equine nutritional researchers also suggested increasing the amount of beta-glucans in the oat, altering the fatty acid composition, modifying the fat content of the whole oat and changing the starch granule size. Another topic discussed is a study of the digestibility of starch at different points along the gastrointestinal tract.

The following individuals attended the meeting:

  • Bruce Roskens, Prairie Oat Growers Association Advisor & Meeting Moderator
  • Dr. Brian Nielson, Michigan State University Dept. of Animal Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Lori Warren, University of Florida Ag-Animal Sciences Dept. Assistant Professor
  • Dr. Burton Staniar, Pennsylvania State University Assistant Professor of Equine Science
  • Dr. Laurie Lawrence, University of Kentucky Dept. of Animal & Food Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Mike McMullen, North Dakota State University Department of Plant Sciences Professor
  • Dr. Carey Williams, Rutgers University Associate Extension Specialist & Associate Professor
  • Dr. Dennis Sigler, Texas A&M Department of Animal Sciences Professor and Extension Horse Specialist
  • Dr. Jennifer Mitchell-Fetch, Agricultural Canada Research Scientist
  • Dennis Galbraith, Oat Milling Specialist at Viterra Oat and Specialist Grain Milling
  • Dr. Mary Beth Gordon, Director of Research for New Product Development at Land O’Lakes Purina Feed
  • Dr. David Kendra, Global Oat Agronomic Research Senior Manager at PepsiCo
  • Jay Romsa, Senior Scientist at General Mills, Inc.
  • Dr. Brian Rossnagel, Prairie Oat Growers Association Advisor
  • Edgar Scheurer, Prairie Oat Growers Association Director
  • Randy Strychar, Project Manager of the Equine Feed Oat Project

About the Equine Feed Oat Project

The Equine Feed Oat Project (EFOP) is an initiative of the Prairie Oat Growers Association (POGA), a volunteer farmer organization representing 20,000 hard-working Canadian oat growers. The EFOP was created in 2009 to research, educate and communicate information about oats to the equine industry.