Over the last few years, ‘molasses’ has become somewhat of a swear word among the equine community. So, what is the truth about molasses and should we really be fearful of it?
Molasses is a by-product taken from the refining of sugar beet or sugar cane and, contrary to popular belief, is not pure sugar. In fact, molasses and its variants such as molglo and molaferm contain 30-54% sugar and are typically added to feeds at 10-15%, thus contributing just 2-4% to the finished feed. Provided they are low in starch and sugar, feeds containing molasses can safely be incorporated into the diet all horses and ponies, even those prone to laminitis. However, some feed companies now offer molasses free alternatives for owners that would prefer to avoid molasses completely.
Many people fear that sugar is unnatural to the horse but in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the sugar in molasses is largely sucrose, the same sugar found in grass!
Sugar, like any other nutrient, has a role to play in any horse or pony’s diet. Horse’s evolved to consume grass which produces sucrose as its primary fuel source, which means they are actually well adapted to digesting and utilising sugar. Therefore in healthy, exercised horses in ideal body condition, sugar shouldn’t cause a problem. Equally, horses cannot be ‘allergic’ to sugar - glucose is the primary energy source utilised by body cells, including the brain thus making it is impossible for horses to be allergic to sugar. If low levels of sugar are consumed through the diet, the horse will convert other nutrients in order to meet the demand for glucose
However, there are undoubtedly some horses and ponies that do need a low sugar (not sugar free) diet, particularly those prone to laminitis. In these cases, start by trying to reduce the sugar in the horse/ pony’s forage ration.
If your horse needs to be on low sugar diet, it is the total amount of sugar in the diet, rather than the inclusion of individual ingredients such as molasses, that should be of concern. Remember, ‘molasses free’ does not mean sugar free and feeds containing molasses are not automatically high in sugar!
In fact, forage is the largest contributor sugar in the horse’s diet (including hay) and a 500kg horse living out at grass can easily consume up to 1.9kg of sugar per day from glass alone (compared to approximately 120-180g in 3kg of ‘hard’ feed).
The term ‘everything in moderation’ is often accepted as good advice for humans and in the case of molasses, is perhaps something that should be applied to our horses. In truth, the facts often do not justify the fears and molasses is certainly not something that must be avoided at all costs.
For more information about sugars and molasses, and for advice about what to feed laminitic horses please contact the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626.