Wheat bran has gone from a darling of caretakers everywhere to one of the most widely criticized feeds. The ensuing impression that bran is somehow “bad” is unwarranted. In fact, bran has some very desirable characteristics.
Bran’s high phosphorus content is often mentioned as a drawback but is actually a plus for many diets. Alfalfa, clover and many grass hays have calcium:phosphorus ratios that are higher than ideal, if not overt phosphorus deficiencies. Since phosphorus is the least palatable of all supplemental minerals, having a good feed source is a real plus. Wheat bran provides about 4 grams of phosphorus per pound. If you don’t know if your diet needs more phosphorus, balance the wheat bran by feeding an equal weight of alfalfa with the bran.
Speaking of minerals, wheat bran is also an excellent source of magnesium, copper and zinc compared to hays or whole grains.
Bran has less fiber than hays but a lower percentage of poorly digestible fiber than hays. The phytate fiber in wheat bran can block some calcium absorption. At the amounts commonly fed this is not a significant issue although, again, you can also balance the bran by adding an equal amount of alfalfa – your horse won’t mind either way.
The high palatability and calorie yield of bran makes it a very valuable addition to senior diets, especially horses that can no longer efficiently chew. A mash of 50:50 wheat bran and alfalfa or 25:75 bran and beet pulp has a calorie content roughly equivalent to the same weight of plain oats but only 1/4 to 1/2 as much starch. The appealing aroma and taste of bran make it an excellent carrier for supplements.
In many ways wheat bran is a perfect example of the high nutritional value of some “by-product” feeds. Much of the nutritional value of wheat is concentrated in the bran. In addition to the above, it averages over 17% protein, is a good source of the amino acid methionine, and is high in B vitamins. The bran also has a rich supply of fiber bound antioxidants which are released during fermentation in the cecum and colon, contributing to disease protection in those areas of the gastrointestinal tract.
Bran may be old-fashioned, and like all feeds needs to be properly balanced, but when used intelligently it can be a very valuable addition to the diet.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD