California Riding Magazine • January, 2011

Integrity Feed
Equine nutritionist advocates gut health and appropriate feed energy content.

Integrity Feed creator Dr. Robert E Bray is a man of many credentials. They include a Ph.D. in animal nutrition, authoring numerous manuals and articles on the subject and several years as associate chair of and equine nutrition professor at Cal Poly Pomona's Animal and Veterinary Science Department. But the credential that may most impress the average horse owner is this: After owning and managing hundreds of horses since the 1970s, "I can count the number of colics I've had on one hand, and still have two fingers left over."

He attributes this remarkable track record to feeding his horses a diet designed to maintain the integrity of their unique digestive system. The Integrity line of nutritionally balanced, concentrated horse feed available from Star Milling was created from the same principles Dr. Bray applied to his own horses all those years. Getting away from high starch is the core concept behind Integrity, which includes formulas for growth, adult/senior horses, and light starch with timothy or alfalfa. They are designed for 90-plus percent of America's horse population, including those with moderate workloads of recreational and competitive use.

In layman's terms, starch equals energy. Today, there is perhaps an over-concern with starch content in the diet. The right diet for each horse is one in which the food's energy content is appropriate for the horse's life stage and activity level. A nursing mare in the first eight weeks, for example, needs 100 percent more energy during the early phases of lactation than she does when maintaining a healthy weight while not pregnant or nursing.

How a feed's energy sources function is equally important. Instead of high starch grains like corn and barley, Integrity feeds use beet pulp, soybean hulls and rice bran as primary ingredients. The high fiber ingredients, beet pulp and soy hulls, enable the horse's large hindgut to function properly by slowly releasing themselves into the digestive system.

Dr. Bray is sympathetic to horse owner's confusion regarding the right way to feed their horse. Most of this is due to the plethora of products available these days. "When I first began owning and managing horses in the 70s, the traditional balanced concentrate, when you needed something over and above forage, was based on four ingredients: corn, oats, barley and soybean meal."

He questioned why average horses were being fed such a high energy diet and began giving his own herd lower energy diets that better served their gut health. His curiosity led him to switch his emphasis from equine reproduction to nutrition. His Ph.D. research with the U.S. Department of Agriculture exposed the scientific soundness behind his ideas.

Help Yourself

Integrity feeds come with specific feeding suggestions based on life stage and activity levels. In addition to that, Dr. Bray recommends getting familiar with the Horse Body Scoring Condition.
"The ability to assess your horse's body condition is critical. Mastering this scoring system is not only important to establish a satisfactory feeding program but also for having a standard to measure your success in maintaining your horse's body weight," he explains on his Equine Nutritional Management Manual that is part of Dr. Bray's Corner on Star Milling's website.

"Weight tapes are useful but the body condition scoring system is the true barometer. The nine-point scoring system was developed at Texas A&M University and provides a useful tool to objectively determine if a horse is too fat, too thin or just right.  The nine categories of this system range from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese) with 5 (moderate) to 6 (moderately fleshy) representing a satisfactory body condition for most horses.

"Horse owners who understand the Body Condition Scoring and can read a feed label have a much better chance of feeding their horse right," he concludes. Those equipped with such knowledge should be able to detect weight gain or loss within six to10 days, and adjust their horse's diet before the change jeopardizes the horse's health.

Although maintaining gut health is the Integrity line's top priority, the pelleted feeds also address several other aspects of equine health. The low starch alfalfa and timothy lines, for example, feature rice bran oils and flax seed's omega-3 fatty acids to enhance skin and coat health, plus various vitamins and minerals to sustain healthy cells
and tissues throughout the body. All of the feeds are designed as complete complements to forage, eliminating the need for additional vitamins or minerals.

Horses once got along fine on forage only, but those days are mostly gone. This is sometimes especially true for horses dining on West Coast-grown hay, Dr. Bray states. "If you look at grass hays grown there: bermudas, fescues, orchard and timothy hay, they are pretty shoddy compared to the hay we buy in other regions." Part of that is due to yield methods in which hay is allowed to grow longer to increase volume but loses protein and other nutrients in the process. "That's why I recommend giving a broader nutrient cover base," he explains."

For more information on the Integrity Feeds and lots of easily digestible equine nutrition advice from Dr. Bray, visit www.starmilling.com.