horse feed tags or labels

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Demystifying Horse Feed Tags: A Comprehensive Guide to Labels and Nutrition

by | Aug 5, 2023 | Equine Barn & Stall Supplies, Equine Feed

Every horse owner knows that providing the right nutrition is paramount to the well-being and performance of their horses. Yet, many find themselves lost, staring at the plethora of information on horse feed tags or labels. Understanding these labels is not just about deciphering complex terminologies—it’s about guaranteeing the optimal health, growth, and vitality of our equine companions.

Feed tags play a pivotal role in equine nutrition, but the challenge for many is how to accurately interpret the data they present. The terminology might seem complex, and the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. This guide is tailored to demystify the components of horse feed tags, paving the way for horse owners to make informed decisions that align with their horses’ unique nutritional needs.

Background Knowledge

At its core, equine nutrition revolves around the balance of macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals). Each of these plays a specific role, from providing energy and muscle development to ensuring proper metabolic and physiological functions.

It’s not just about knowing these terms, but understanding how they translate into the daily requirements for your horse. Factors like age, activity level, reproductive status, and health conditions can all influence these requirements. Thus, horse owners need to be both observant and knowledgeable to ensure their horses receive a diet tailored to their individual needs.

The Legality and Regulation of Feed Tags

Given the importance of horse feed in ensuring the health and performance of our equine partners, it’s reassuring to know that there are regulatory bodies overseeing the labeling and quality of horse feeds. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) plays a significant role in this, setting guidelines for feed manufacturers. These guidelines ensure that the information on feed tags is both accurate and standardized, enabling horse owners to make reliable comparisons between products.

Furthermore, AAFCO collaborates closely with state regulatory agencies and the FDA. Every year, AAFCO publishes an official document outlining the requirements for feed labeling. This ensures that feed tags meet both clarity and transparency standards, giving horse owners confidence in the products they select.

Anatomy of a Horse Feed Tag

The feed tag is a treasure trove of information—if one knows how to decode it. Let’s break it down:

  • Product name and weight: These may seem basic, but they offer the initial insights into the feed’s composition and purpose. For instance, a product named “Senior Horse Maintenance” immediately indicates its target demographic.
  • Purpose statement: Different horses have varied needs. Whether it’s a growing foal, an active racer, or a resting senior, the purpose statement on the feed tag helps match the feed to specific types of horses, ensuring that the nutritional profile aligns with their requirements.
  • Guaranteed analysis of nutrients: This section lists the amounts of key nutrients guaranteed to be in the feed. It’s essential to understand both the mandatory nutrient guarantees listed by AAFCO and the relevance and significance of each.

The guaranteed analysis on a horse feed tag is a declaration from the manufacturer about the minimum or maximum levels of certain nutrients. For example, you may see figures representing protein, fat, fiber, and a host of minerals and vitamins. AAFCO provides a set list of mandatory nutrients that must be displayed, ensuring consistency across different brands. Understanding these figures is crucial, especially when you’re looking to address specific nutritional needs or deficiencies.

  • Ingredient list: Ingredients can be a controversial section of any feed tag, primarily because of misconceptions. Horse owners might mistakenly assume the first ingredient listed (due to it being the most prevalent by weight) is the primary nutrient source. However, that’s not always the case. Furthermore, there’s a distinction between individual ingredients and collective terms. For instance, ‘grain products’ is a collective term that might include oats, barley, and corn. It’s pivotal for horse owners to understand the difference and be aware of the nutritional value each ingredient provides.
  • Feeding directions: Every horse is unique, and while feeding directions offer general guidelines, it’s vital to tailor feed amounts to individual needs. These recommendations are typically based on weight and activity level, ensuring that the horse receives the appropriate caloric intake. Overfeeding or underfeeding can lead to a host of health issues, so adhering to these directions, while considering the specific circumstances of each horse, is essential.
Horse Feed Tag Example

Reading Between the Lines: What the Tag Doesn't Tell You

Just as important as understanding what’s on the feed tag is recognizing its limitations. While it provides valuable data:

  • Additional nutrients: There might be nutrients present in the feed that aren’t listed on the tag. Often, manufacturers only list the nutrients mandated by AAFCO, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t present and beneficial.
  • Nutrient and ingredient quality: Not all sources of protein or fiber, for example, are created equal. The bioavailability—how readily a horse can absorb and use a nutrient—can vary significantly. Discerning the quality and digestibility of ingredients is crucial.
  • Decoding the “feed recipe”: While an ingredient list gives an insight into what’s inside, it’s not a definitive “recipe”. The exact proportions and processing methods can drastically influence the feed’s overall quality.
  • Nutrient Appropriateness: Ensuring that the horse isn’t receiving an excess of certain nutrients is just as crucial as meeting their minimum requirements. Overloading on certain minerals or vitamins can be detrimental to health.
  • Quality control: Different brands might source their ingredients differently, and the processing standards can vary. Some manufacturers might prioritize non-GMO ingredients, organic sources, or specific processing methods that preserve nutrient quality.
  • Research behind the feed: Beyond just the tag, understanding the science and research that went into the feed’s formulation can offer reassurance. Manufacturers that invest in equine nutrition research typically produce feeds that are more tailored to horses’ actual needs.


While the tag provides valuable insights, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. The holistic approach requires understanding the nuances of equine nutrition, being proactive, and ensuring that the chosen feed aligns with the horse’s unique needs.

Equine nutrition isn’t just about reading labels—it’s about understanding, caring, and ensuring the very best for our beloved companions.

Related: The Different Types of Horse Feed: Which Feed Should you Give Your Horse?

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Austin Davis</a>

Austin Davis

Austin Davis, is a real-life cowboy hailing from the sweeping plains of Texas. He was born and bred in the heart of cowboy country and has spent his entire life immersed in the ranching and rodeo culture. With a firm grasp on everything from cattle drives to the subtleties of horse whispering, Austin brings an unparalleled authenticity to his writing that comes straight from the source.

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