Feeding Horses Bran Mash

(Bran Mash)

    In my travels I have encountered numerous varieties of bran mash preparations horsemen have given to their steeds. I’ve not only seen plain hot water poured over bran, but also various mixtures of grains, supplements and hot water. Of all the recipes I have come across, I found one to stand out as the most useful and successful in providing the horse with elements for which mash should be given. 

   One should be first and foremost aware of the purpose of feeding mash, as well as its values. The “old time” horsemen used mash for the following purposes; to provide sufficient water intake either during very cold days or after a strenuous workout, (e.g., transport) that depleted the horse’s system of water; to insure health to the depleted digestive tract - mainly for the prevention of most common colic. During or before a strenuous workout (e.g., competition, race) or long transports, horses often empty their system due to physical or mental stress, which causes the digestive tract to become abnormally depleted.

   The bulk of  mash, provided by the addition of bran, safely aids in filling the depleted gut and helps in the prevention of related colic (spasmodic, impaction). Mash with flax seed also serves the purpose of soothing the digestive system  or as referred to by the old-timers “cleaning out the pipes” or “cleaning the horse out”. However, the “cleaning out” of the pipes does not exactly describe the value of mash, though it does contain mild laxative producing agents, as well as properties that soothe irritated digestive systems when used with flax seed.

   Another important aspect of feeding mash (when fed with electrolytes e.g. sodium, potassium) on a regular basis is to provide needed consistencies during exchanges of water in the working horse, thus adding a preventative for water related colic (impaction colic) and dehydration. The mash with electrolytes aids in water regeneration in slightly dehydrated horses, suitably fed either after long shipping, excessive work or just simply cold weather.  It is a known fact that during cold weather water intake is limited while the horse is fed primarily dehydrated (dry) feeds. Another very important reason for feeding mash (must include the flax) is the prevention of many forms of colic, such as sand  colic etc (the flax gelatin will help the digestive system to purge itself of the sand).

Two of the main ingredients 
of the bran mash
Flax Seed & Wheat Bran

     The mash preparation should be fed regularly, once or twice per week, depending on related conditions. The ideal times to take advantage of feeding mash are: following excessive work, race, show, competition; during unusually cold days in the winter, after a long trip (shipping), after work when the horse is not used to working every day, after the use of lasix (usually fed for couple of days), after serious illness that deprived the horse of water, after colic and the more liquid version of mash in brood mares following foaling. The best time to feed mash is in the evening (late afternoon).

     Mash should not be fed a day before or the day of strenuous work, prior to an exercise, race, competition, show etc. The recipe, which we have included, will help the horse restore some of the lost water. Should the horse already hold plenty of water, the mash could be somewhat detrimental, resulting in tiredness due to carrying too much water, as perspiring excessively makes the horse lose more salts and water. If your horse is stocking up excessive fluid in the legs, abstain from feeding mash and salt. If your horse is running a high fever, abstain from feeding any grains. Do not feed mash when the horse is suffering from diarrhea.

   The flax seed is essential in the bran mash, because it contains health and soothing values for the digestive system. Bran is added to provide needed bulk, as well as good quality protein to regenerate the body. Feeding dry bran frequently is not recommended. Please, make sure that the bran does not contain middlings, as they are prone to cause colic.

    The main ingredients

   Water, whole or crimped – cracked or steam rolled grains (preferably oats), 100% wheat bran, whole flax seed, salt or electrolytes (sodium, potassium). Do not use pelleted feeds as they become “mushy” and horses will not find the mash palatable. Do not add supplements as the hot water will likely destroy some of the values. Keep in mind that supplements can be somewhat abusive to the horses’ digestive system. 

    Grain and Bran Ratio

    I usually base the feeding ratio on the daily diet of the horse. Since I never use pelleted feeds, I had no problem figuring the mash ratio versus daily grain intake. The grain and bran ratio is usually 2:1, two parts of grain to one part of bran. This of course depends on the amount of grain being fed. The minimum amount of bran is two quarts, hence if the horse received only 2 quarts of grain, then the ratio was 1:1, if he received 4 quarts of grain than the ratio was 2:1, four quarts of grain and two quarts of bran. If the horse receives six quarts in one feeding, then he gets three quarts of bran to the mash etc.

    I have often prepared mash for more than one horse. In these instances,  I have used large containers, such as an old bath tub, water sealed wheelbarrow and others, to mix the mash in a larger quantity. This is most practical, since the mash can be soaked for a longer period without losing temperature, especially in the winter, when the mash should be fed as hot as possible. In the winter it is best to feed the mash very hot, because most horses are very anxious to consume it.  They tend to  nibble on it very slowly and carefully, while at the same time inhaling the steam, which is very helpful in “cleaning out” the breathing passage ways. In other words, it will help the horse to open the breathing passages and aid in draining nasal mucus . In summer time, especially on hot days, one should let the mash cool off to around body temperature, otherwise mash that is too hot will produce excessive sweating, thus losing precious water that is often times hard to maintain in the working/ performance horse.

    Mash preparation

     First, one must soak the flax seed in cold water for about 2 to 6 hours, while frequently mixing (every other hour) to prevent it from sticking together which would otherwise limit the soaking action. It is not recommended to use more than one quarter (1/4) cup per horse. I generally use a quarter cup per two horses, hence eight horses receive one cup of dry flax seed soaked in one gallon of cold water for six hours. I’ve never used crushed flax seed for mash.

    After the flax seed is soaked, the liquid texture should be thick and slimy. The presoaked flax seed and solution was added to hot water and very slowly boiled (simmered) until the texture became thicker (about 30 minutes). Take caution as the flax seed will react like milk when brought to a rapid boil. I usually boil the flax in a water sealed trashcan with the help of the “stick” heater inserted into the trashcan. If using such heater, it is best if allowed to rest on something above the bottom of the can, since the flax will settle to the bottom and could burn from the heater.  Most horses will not eat burned flaxseed mash.

    Prepare the desired dry mixture of mash in a container (in a bucket for one horse or in a larger container for several horses). I prefer to use cracked or steam rolled oats (soaks up more water at a faster rate) with very little sweet feed (about 10% of the dry mash mixture). I add approximately one full tablespoon of white salt per horse or some electrolytes (sodium, potassium) in place of plain salt. I use the electrolytes during the summer months and the plain salt during less active winter months.

    Pour the hot flax seed and water mixture over the grains and mix it vigorously and quickly. If you do not have enough of the hot flax-water, you can always add regular hot water until you learn to measure the correct amount of water for boiling the flax. I like to allow the mash to sit for at least one hour (minimum 30 min.) making an allowance for the water to penetrate the grains, thus it will be softer and easier to digest. Once the mash is mixed, the recommendation is to sprinkle some of the bran on the top and cover it with a burlap bag to keep the heat in, especially during the winter months.

    Most horses will eat the mash preparation the first time around, however, some will not. It is best if they acquire a taste for it as once they do, it will be difficult keeping them calm, for they will become anxious to have it as soon as they smell it. Since it takes quite some time to make mash, it is wise to prepare it out of sight and smell of horses, so as not to unnecessarily agitate them. 

    When you feed mash on a regular basis it will inevitably show in general health and appearance of the horse, becoming very obvious in his very shiny and slick coat, even during the winter months. You will also aid in prevention of  impaction, spasmodic or sand colic, the main reason mash is fed regularly. Among other things, prepared as directed above, mash  contributes greatly in weight gain for undernourished horses; in decreasing recovery time from strenuous exercise (mash fed after strenuous exercise), improving hoof, skin and coat condition and during times of stress for the prevention of weight loss.

    Notes

    Adding mineral oil to mash is not recommended, since mineral oil is not easily digested and defeats the purpose of feeding mash. Mineral oil is detrimental to the digestive system in horses.

    Do not use or add flaxseed (linseed) oil, it is not the same as flax seed and does not replace it.

    Wash the feed tub thoroughly the next morning following feeding of mash. The remainder of wet grains, bran and flax turn sour over night and the feed tub becomes a haven for bacteria, not to mention production of a foul odor.

    Mash, minus flax and salt (electrolytes) is somewhat useless and is nothing but wet grains. Electrolytes should not be added to drinking water, as it could reduce water intake by the horse. Mash provides an excellent way to administer electrolytes to horses without abusing the digestive tract.

Edited by R.A. 03/13/04

Related Article: Bran Mash Controversy

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a. Lee Stanek