Feeding Bran Mash

I remember when bran mashes were once a really popular feed-stuff given to horses during winter time, but now it seems to becoming less and less popular. It was once served to horses to prevent colic and tying up whereas advances in modern research have proven this not to be the case, in fact it can be harmful to those with insulin resistance or other dietary requirements. It is, however, still commonly given to sick horses and mares just after foaling.

Bran mash is made using wheat bran, which is a byproduct of the milling process. It is a fluffy, low density feed - kind of has the consistency of sawdust! It is high in vitamins such as B3 (niacin), B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin), but offers little in the way of nutrition otherwise. It contains about 16-17% protein and only 10-12% crude fibre (compared to 20% for beet pulp). All this make it a relatively expensive feed given it's nutritional content.


Bran mashes have traditionally been fed as many owners believed the high fibre content combined with the warm water will increase water intake during cold spells of weather and will prevent colic. Others feed it to provide a warm and comforting feed to their horses, it is especially common to feed it to horses after a hard day's hunting.

There are a variety of bran mash recipes available with most involve mixing warm water with 4 - 8 of dry bran. The amount of water used will depend on the desired sloppiness of the mash. It should be blended thoroughly with boiling water and left to steep for 15 minutes. Other ingredients can be added to the mash, with most owners adding a tablespoon of salt during hot weather. Molasses and/or apples and carrots are sometimes added to increase the palatability  the mash. And voila, a bran mash is created!

It also is quite well known for it's laxative effects which I will will explain further below. This can be beneficial to those who are stressed, after travelling long distances or are not drinking enough water.


There are a few drawbacks when it comes to feeding bran mashes too often. Horses require a calcium to phosphorous ratio of 1:1 or 2:1 whereas bran has a ration of 1:12!! As a result, if fed daily without correcting the mineral imbalance the horse will develop a condition known as nutritional secondary hyperthyroidism, a.k.a "Big Head". This occurs because the horse's body will attempt to address the imbalance by taking and using calcium from the bones. As minerals are removed, they are replaced by fibrous connective tissue, which increases the size of the done while decreasing it's strength.

Although the whole skeleton is affected, in growing horses the result is developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) which is most noticeable in the growth plates of the cervical vertebrae (located in the neck) and the legs. In young, mature horses the facial bones become enlarged. In older horses facial bone enlargement is less obvious.

The calcium/phosphorous ration can be fixed with a supplement. Limestone flour is the most well known but cannot be added to the bran itself as it binds to the phylate and thus the horses boy cannot utilise it properly. So it must be added to a normal hard feed. Many people now choose to mix alfalfa into their mash instead.

As for bran's famous laxative effect, For decades experienced horsemen swore that it prevented colic by keeping the digestive system moving. A recent study by Cornell University has proven that bran, whether fed wet or dry, had no effect in softening stools in horses. Even if made really sloppy and wet! There is no proper evidence that it prevents colic. The reason many horses get loose manure is due to a mild digestive upset because of the sudden change in diet. Some nutritionists also state that this digestive upset can destroy the populations of 'good' bacteria in the horses gut!

A warm and comforting bran mash will not warm a horse in the freezing cold. That job is better achieved by providing ad-lib forage, as more body heat is generated through the digestion of hay and other forages than any grain or grain by-product.


While alot of this information casts a bad light on bran, it certainly does have a place in the diets of some horses. A fussy eater may not be able to resist the temptation of a warm bran mash and it is an excellent way of disguising bitter tasting medications.

Bran mash can be given, ideally, no more than once a week to horses. A occasional bran mash is not harmful but should not be fed to young or growing horses. In adults it should be kept to a minimum amount.

What do you think? Do you still feed bran mashes? Do your horses love them?

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