Ever had your feed store deliver a bag of cattle feed to your farm by mistake? If you opened that bag, you probably noticed, on first inspection, that the mix inside looked a whole lot like the sweet feed you thought you’d ordered. Corn, barley, oats, molasses–all the basic ingredients are the same, and even the protein level might not differ that much from what you normally feed your equines. You might start to wonder whether the differences between cattle and horse feeds are really significant at all.

In fact, across North America, some horse people do routinely feed their horses bovine rations, either because it’s convenient (as it might be if you’re also raising dairy or beef cattle) or because, in many instances, it’s quite a bit cheaper. But is this really a good idea?

In truth, it’s not–for several reasons. On the surface, cattle feeds might look like an appropriate choice for your horses, but nutritionally, there are a number of important differences. Cats and dogs might appear to have similar nutrient requirements, but, in reality, need very different diets (cats have a specific requirement for the amino acid called taurine, for example, that generally is not added to dog foods). This is true also with cattle and horses. They have major digestive and metabolic differences that make their dietary needs quite diverse.

The Tummy Tour

From an evolutionary standpoint, cattle have very evolved and efficient digestive systems. In that regard, cows leave horses in the proverbial dust. Although both species depend on forage materials for the bulk of their nutrition, they&