Is Molasses Unhealthy?
The concerns with molasses in balanced horse feeds have escalated over the years. Most of them are based on a misunderstanding of sugars, starches, and non-structural carbohydrates in feeds. Yes, molasses is 40% sugar and is common with sweet feeds, but that 40% sugar content does not translate to 40% sugar in the finished product. This article will demonstrate why molasses is not the “bad guy” it’s made out to be.
Nutritionally, molasses does not bring very much value when formulating a horse feed. Sweet feeds (concentrates with added molasses) may contain as much as 12% molasses, but most are less than 10%. Forages mixed with molasses such as A&M (alfalfa & molasses) and O&M (oat hay & molasses) may be as high as 20% molasses.
The two benefits of added molasses are:
- It binds the feed together, reducing the amount of small feed particles that can be breathed in by the horse.
- Added sweetness. Horses have taste buds for sweetness just like other mammals and bland feeds taste better with molasses.
One needs to consider how much of the molasses-containing feed is fed. One to 2 cups per day? One to 2 lbs? Eight to 10 lbs?
Even a forage-only diet still has sugars and starches. It varies, but can be as high as 12%. There are no standards for sugar or starch content in forages, and the only way of knowing is from laboratory analysis. For comparison, the sugar and starch content of Integrity products can be found here.
Let’s take a look at 4 pounds of a sweet feed that contains 8% molasses and determine how much sugar is actually contributed by molasses.
- 4 lbs feed X 0.08 (8% molasses) = 0.32 lb of molasses in the 4 lbs of feed
- 0.32 lb of molasses X 16 oz/lb = 5.1 oz of molasses
- 5.1 oz X 0.40 (40% sugar in molasses) = 2.04 oz of sugar from 8% molasses in this feed
This means feeding a horse 4 lbs of an 8% molasses feed only comes out to 2 oz of sugar. That’s about 4 ½ tablespoons of granulated sugar! Feeding 1 pound of the 8% molasses feed only comes out to roughly 1 tablespoon of sugar. Keep in mind that we are referencing animals that are 6 to 7 times our body weight and can carry us on their backs during exercise. Working horses work a lot harder than most people.
A 1000 lb horse that works an hour a day for 5 - 6 days per week would be fed 16 lbs of a grass hay and 4 lbs of a balanced formula per day. A working horse needs to be fueled for this level of activity and feeding only hay is inadequate. Horses need fat, sugars, and starches as fuel sources. Protein is NOT a major fuel source.
It’s not as simple as “…does it contain molasses?”
There was a study in which molasses was fed with either corn or oats. The authors suggested from the results that molasses’ influence on blood glucose levels depends on what other feed sources provide sugars and starches and how quickly the horse consumes the feed. This is why we must look at the feeding program as a whole, not just at individual ingredients. This is called Nutritional Management. We made Integrity feeds with balanced nutritional management in mind.
Active horses need energy (calories) to fuel their activity and to maintain body weight. The real issues with the health of many horses is overfeeding and a lack of consistent exercise, not the amount of molasses in their feed.