(post written by Jason) Lately every time I turn on my computer it seems I come across another story and embedded discussion about contaminated equine feeds. There have been a couple incidents of monensin/lasalocid contamination in the past few months that seem to have opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of worries among horse people, barn owners and others in the equine industry. As someone who spent the better part of twenty years in the feed industry before coming home to board horses and farm full time I hope my experiences in various parts of Canada and the US can bring some perspective to this discussion.
Should I be actively worried about this issue as it relates to my horse, my barn, etc.?
There are a lot of things that horse owners should probably worry about before they get concerned about monensin/lasalocid contamination in their feedstuffs.
Monensin/lasalocid contamination can happen any time anyone buys feed from a plant that handles the product and the great majority of plants DO handle these products or ones similar to it. That said, history and statistics suggest that the chances are extremely slim that any one horse or farm full of horses will ever see any feed contaminated with monensin/lasalocid. If the US horse herd is nine million head strong and if ten horses die every year from consuming monensin/lasalocid contaminated feed…..a big if…..the odds of any one horse dying in any given year from consuming monensin/lasalocid contaminated feed are 1:900,000. On this farm we’re concerned about the possibility of monensin/lasalocid contamination but we don’t spend much time actively worrying about it.
What do these products do ? Why are we feeding cattle antibiotics ?
Monensin and lasalocid are antibiotics only in the broadest sense. They are not given to cure illness; if your cow is sick these are not going to make it better. They don’t work, and were never designed to work, against bacteria that cause disease. Rather these products, often called ionophores, work in the first stomach of a cow….an area called the rumen….and are designed to safely change rumen microflora to significantly improve feed efficiency.
I’m still worried about it. Are there things I can do to further reduce my risk ?
There are definitely things you can do that will make you feel better, though whether or not they statistically reduce your risk is another matter entirely, and too deep for this blog to dive into. There are a few mills out there that only make equine feeds and don’t handle any medications not approved for inclusion in horse feeds. That will reduce your risk to almost zero (it is always possible that the wrong inputs could be delivered to any feed mill). In many cases these are small, family run facilities with limited capability of producing anything other than a mash feed.
Larger mills tend to offer more flexibility and also tend to offer a much wider product line, including perhaps toll milling custom formulas for bulk delivery to farms like ours. Here at Paradigm Farms I designed our feed to complement the soils and forage on this farm AND to be safe for consumption at relatively high rates because a lot of our retirees struggle with consuming hay and pasture. Because of how we feed (feedbags) and who I’m feeding (retired horses, often aged) in order to achieve adequate nutrient density we require our feed to be pelleted as a custom formula. Alas, every large pellet mill in our area that toll mills custom formulas carries and uses Rumensin , Bovatec or both in some of their cattle feeds so we mitigate the (very low) risk the best we can.
Our current sourcing partner has never had an issue that I’m aware of in their long milling history. In addition to being HAACP certified they regularly win national awards for quality control AND for the diligence of their truck fleet. Proper, computerized batch sequencing, frequent ingredient testing and rigorous cleaning of every part of the feed mill, bagging line and/or bulk trucks helps reduce the chances of cross contamination. All of this helps set my mind at ease but at the end of the day the only sure way to avoid monensin or lasalocid contamination is by sourcing feed from a facility that doesn’t manufacture medicated cattle feed.
Why aren’t there more large mills and national companies that manufacture horse feeds in facilities that don’t manufacture medicated cattle feeds ?
I surmise it may have something to do with the small size of the equine market relative to cattle and other species in most parts of the country. A quick Google search suggests that there are roughly 5 million tons of horse feed manufactured annually in the US compared to roughly 50 million tons of cattle feed. This is out of a total feed market of between 150 and 200 million tons annually when all species are included. To me that suggests that the equine feed market is pretty small potatoes nationally.
I occasionally find corn kernels in my feed. Is that something to worry about ?
Most mills use a small amount of whole corn to flush ingredients out of augers and hidden corners between batches. The corn itself is not normally contaminated. Thus a few kernels of whole corn in a feed that otherwise looks as it typically does suggests to me that the system is probably working normally and the ingredients which may cause cross contamination are no longer in the system.
I’m going to end my post with the following thoughts. In today’s America horses are mostly kept as pets and most people view killing one, by mistake or otherwise, far worse than killing any species that’s primarily viewed as livestock. We board horses for our living and believe me we completely understand this. However, feed companies have been slow to figure this out and as a consequence these incidents are often poorly handled right from the start. Fortunately, most of the time for almost every horse in this country, statistics suggest that the likelihood of monensin/lasalocid contamination is very, very low.
Flyer, Lofty and Donneur
Asterik, Lotus and Silver
B-Rad taking his daily nap with Johnny
Homer, Ritchie and Baby were in a hurry to get somewhere
Silky and MyLight; grooming is hard with blankets on
Maisie and Lily
Mick and Murphy
a pretty sunset