Q.I’ve been considering changing my horse’s feed ration, so I’ve read a lot of feed labels lately. I notice that many feeds include “wheat middlings.” What are wheat middlings? Are they just some kind of filler or cost-saving measure for the manufacturers?
A.It’s great you’re reading and paying attention to the tags on feeds you’re considering for your horse. Feed tags include a lot of useful information, including the ingredient list of everything in the product. And you’re right—wheat middlings (or “midds”) have become a very popular ingredient in horse feeds, especially pelleted ones.
What Are Wheat Middlings?
Wheat midds consist of fine particles of bran, shorts, germ, flour, and other fractions created during the wheat-milling process. They’ve become a popular horse feed component, in part, because they help to reduce the feed’s starch content while still maintaining calories.
Grains traditionally used in horse feeds have high starch contents. For example, wheat contains about 62% starch, barley roughly 54%, corn around 70%, and oats about 44%. While, at first glance, wheat midds might appear high in starch at 23%, this is clearly lower than other options.
Wheat midds contain about 1.5 Megacalories (Mcals) of digestible energy per pound. Other grain calorie contents are similar: oats contain about 1.5 Mcals, corn has 1.76 Mcals, barley around 1.6 Mcals, and whole wheat has 1.7 Mcals per pound.
A Low-Starch Option
With the move toward lower-starch feeds that still deliver the calories performance horses need, wheat midds have become an obvious choice for manufacturers. Additionally, wheat midds help to improve pellet hardness and durability; this is beneficial because consumers typically don’t appreciate opening a bag of pelleted feed to find a lot of fines and powder toward the bottom of the bag. Incorporating wheat midds into the pellets helps combat this issue without using other types of binders.
Certainly, wheat midds are a cheaper ingredient than using a whole grains that could otherwise be used in products for the human food market. They are termed a byproduct (like beet pulp) because they’re left over after milling wheat, but this does not make them bad. And, if they weren’t used in horse and livestock feeds, they could end up in landfill, which is a waste of a valuable resource.
The feed industry has been pressured to develop horse feeds that are lower in starch but still deliver the performance benefits of traditional feeds. Utilizing wheat midds is one way manufacturers have successfully responded. Wheat midds are absolutely not a filler; they convey important nutrients to the ration, and there’s no reason to shy away from them as a feed ingredient.