Sprouts - Not Just for People

Sprouts have been grown for over 5,000 years, yet limited information is available on feeding sprouted grains to animals, especially horses. It's not surprising, because no horseperson in his right mind would subject himself to the twice- or thrice- daily ritual of rinsing the 6 to 12 heavy, gallon-sized sprout jars cluttering up the sink area just to cater to one horse. Perhaps if the horse happened to be an elderly horse and a beloved family pet like ours, it would be considered no problem. Or perhaps it would be considered well worth it in a rehabilitation situation or to supply extra energy for a hard-working athlete.

Ferne loves her sprouts - they disappear fast!

Feeding sprouted grains to animals, as with humans, can give them an edge. Sprouts are baby plants at their most nutritious stage. They're very tasty, high in energy, and packed with phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and valuable enzymes. All these valuable nutrients are in a highly utilizable form - easily digestible because the delicate cell walls of the sprouts readily release living nourishment into the system. Sprouts are highly palatable, economical, ecological, and grow-able year-round indoors.

Once sufficiently moistened, grains begin to sprout. Changes begin almost immediately. There is an increase in nutrition in the raw, sprouting grain or seed due to an explosion of enzyme activity. The dormant, inactive, dry seed becomes highly active. The storage-protein and starch in the grain are broken down into amino acids, peptides, and simpler carbohydrates needed for the grain to grow into a plant. The grain literally digests its own protein and starch and creates amino acids (essential components of the diet) in the process. Thus, sprouted grains are essentially predigested grains, ready to be absorbed and utilized. At the same time, the anti-nutritional factors such as enzyme inhibitors (found in the dry grains) and other anti-nutrients are greatly decreased.

Wheat, oat, and corn sprouts, 3 days old.

The soaking process alone significantly decreases the anti-nutrient elements because they are leached into the soak water. Then as the seed begins to germinate, anti-nutrients are further decreased to low levels or nothing. Soaking for 6 to 12 hours and 3-4 days of germination can remove nearly all inhibitors (see Do It Yourself! in this issue for information on growing sprouts.)

Energy that would normally be used to digest and convert feeds into utilizable nutrients can be directed elsewhere, such as toward growth and repair in injured animals and to reserve strength and health in old age. Sprouts are live food loaded with enzymes. Enzymes are needed for digestion, and if they are not provided in the feed, then the ones produced by the body are used. If the enzymes are provided in the food, such as in sprout form, the digestive enzymes are included and do the work of the digestion. Feeding processed grains that have been heated to 118 degrees or more have no live enzymes because they die at those temperatures.

Sprouted grains are whole foods that are alive with nutrition and healthy bacteria. Bacteria are important because without them the body cannot be healthy and able to fend off disease. Again, heat processing renders the feed sterile, and temporarily free of bacteria, good and bad. Without the good bacteria, the system is more vulnerable to any invading organisms. For a healthy bacterial ecology to exist in the body, there needs to be a balance. Good bacteria are essential, and plentiful in sprouts.

But are sprouts actually a 'natural food' for horses? Where would roaming horses come across sprouts in their travels? It's simple. Any unharvested grains, when rained upon, can start to sprout, on the ground or on the stalk. In the fall, after the seeds are mature and well-formed, a good rain can bring on the sprouts. At this time of the year, the cool weather may even inhibit mold and fungus growth long enough to keep a roaming horse fed with some nutritious sprouted grains.

According to the results of some animal feeding trials conducted with sprouted grains, it appears that sprouting may actually improve the feeding value of the grain. This is encouraging news for farmers in North Dakota and certain areas of the country where weather conditions often cause problems harvesting grain promptly. Wet weather conditions delay harvest and can cause grain to sprout on the stalk or in the rows of cut grain, making it unsuitable for milling. However, research is finding that this sprouted grain can be fed successfully to livestock.

Pigs, cows, and other ruminants have been fed sprouts experimentally as part of their ration. Several varieties of wheat were sprouted and the nutrients were compared with those in the dry grain. Nutrient levels in the sprouted wheat were higher than the non-sprouted wheat; for example, sprouting wheat resulted in an increase of about 1% in crude protein, 0.1% fat, and 0.35% crude fiber.

Feeding horses is a very complex subject and nutritional requirements for the horse remain ambiguous. Macro- and micronutrients together supply the body with what it needs, but there is no clear-cut data on the ideal nutritional requirements for the horse. This is understandable because horses differ in their daily routines, and the requirements vary with the workload and other factors. Crops also differ in their nutrient values. Most of the research that has been done on nutritional requirements for the horse was originally based on studies with other livestock. The National Research Council in the USA has come up with guidelines for the required amounts of macronutrients - the basic protein, carbohydrate, fat and fiber - for various equine categories, though not necessarily through strictly equine research.

The amount of dry feed provided should be measured in weight, and the weight of the dry feed given depends on the weight of the horse and other factors. When weighing sprouted grains, keep this in mind: a sprouted grain is heavier than a dry grain because of the higher moisture content; however, sprouted grain weight is actually less than dry grain weight per scoop or bushel because the sprouts get 'fluffier' and don't settle and pack like dry grain. So measure by weight, not volume, for more accuracy and take into consideration the increased water content.

Hopefully research on feeding sprouted grains will become more common so that we can someday have clearer information. We personally have seen the benefits of using the easily digestible sprouted grains, alive with active nutrients and enzymes. The horse's performance and condition over time is often the best indicator of the feeding program, and it is important to keep notes on the effects of feed changes. Each horse is different, so feed amounts and the types of grains will vary. Sprouts might best be fed as part of the ration, as was done in the experiments with cows and pigs. Start with a small amount and increase as needed, feeding the sprouts once a day at first. Use common sense, keep records on what is fed, and chart your progress!


This article is for informational purposes only. Consult your veterinarian or equine nutrition expert to determine the best feeding program for your horse.

Books for more information:

The Sprouting Book, Ann Wigmore

Living Foods for Optimum Health by Brian Clement