Is coconut oil safe to give to horses?

Coconut oil has been rapidly gaining in popularity both in human and animal nutrition and feeding. Its main benefits are that it’s high in antioxidants and is very palatable with reports of even the fussiest eater taking to coconut.

It hasn’t been widely used in animal feeds until recently because the processing meant that the end product had often gone off by the time it was used. It’s a good source of fats and particularly high in medium chain triglycerides, which are a form of saturated fat. These are often thought of as beneficial, especially when compared to long-chain saturated fats (as found in animal fats e.g. butter).

Coconut oil is safe to feed to horses but be aware that it’s very high in calories, so use sparingly. With the addition of any oil to your horse’s feed, make sure that antioxidants (especially vitamin E) are sufficient to balance out the increased requirement from metabolism of the oils.

How can I tell if my horse’s hay has gone off?

Checking your horse’s forage can be difficult but is really important. The potential consequences to your horse’s gastrointestinal and respiratory health can be high if forage quality, especially the hygiene, is poor.

Changes in forage have a greater impact on gastrointestinal health than that of concentrate feeds, in particular the impact on the microbiota of the hindgut. It’s even more important to know the content and quality of the forage you’re feeding your horse currently and when that’s running low, gradually introduce the new forage over the course of at least three weeks. Visual evaluation is important but it’s advisable to send a sample to a forage testing laboratory for a closer look as well.

What to look out for?

On visual inspection, a good batch of hay will look green to light brown with clean stems and leaves. It will smell fresh, clean and hay-like! Generally, feeding hay that’s about a year old is optimal, but if good hay is stored correctly the hygiene (moulds, fungi and bacteria) can remain good for years. The nutritional value will deteriorate with time but for a number of horses and ponies this isn’t a problem, for example, where vitamins and mineral requirements are covered by concentrate or supplement feeding and a nutritional value hay is not required due to laminitis, high body condition score or similar.

Bad quality hay can vary from brown and sun bleached to obviously mouldy with dark or white areas of mould spores, dusty and with a mouldy, musty smell.

It’s advisable not to feed any hay from a mouldy bale as fungal and mould spores can spread further into the local area than the obviously affected areas.