In Defense of Wheat Bran

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 mash

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

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions,, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
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7 Responses to In Defense of Wheat Bran

  1. June says:

    ” 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.” Would this be an appropriate SAFE option for an IR/Cushings senior miniature horse (has lost some teeth) that needs to gain some weight? He is currently on low s/s orchard grass hay and ODTBC to manage his IR/Cushings, along with custom hay-balanced supplements, but he needs something more to gain weight. (He may also have some muscle wasting). He is not too keen on soaked ODTBC alone so could I add this 50:50 bran/alfalfa mash to it or give it in lieu of the ODTBC for weight gain? What would be an appropriate amount to give for an approximately 220 lb mini? Thanks.

    • uckeleequine says:

      The bran/alfalfa would be too high. You should go with 25:75 bran:beet pulp and be sure that you weigh them both dry. Rinse the beet pulp well and let it soak before mixing in the bran. You could give up to a pound a day, dry weight measured before soaking.

      Dr. Kellon

  2. Gayle Bowlby says:

    would you have an idea, of how much wheat bran it would take to balance ten pounds of beet pulp? for the cal/phos ranges,

  3. Alanna says:

    I am having a hard time finding caloric information for wheat bran and rice bran. Could someone help with this information? Thank you.

    • uckeleequine says:

      Rice bran 1.44 Mcal/lb – but many have added fat which will increase this

      Wheat bran 1.49 Mcal/lb

      Dr. Kellon

      • Alanna says:

        Thank you for your reply. Most of the rice bran I look at contains a fairly high amount of fat (15-20%), but do not list any additional fat in the ingredients, just rice bran and usually also calcium carbonate. I presume it would be listed in some way if fat was added, correct? Wheat bran is obviously much lower in fat. Is the difference in fat content due to inherent properties, or due to fat addition to the rice product? I am trying to compare calorie content of rice and wheat bran as they are available at the feed store, and cannot tell if the calorie content is similar despite the differences in fat, or if the rice bran that is available is “artificially” increased due to added fat.
        Thank you for the information!

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