Updated: Dec 27, 2022
Few things raise my hackles more than feed or supplement companies using the catch-all-phrase "no fillers" when advertising their products. What does this mean? No seriously, I’m asking you. What does that mean, because I’m not completely certain either! I’ve been looking at feed and supplement labels professionally for two decades, and I’m still not sure what supplement companies mean when they say "no fillers". Do these supplement creators not understand feed/supplement categories or ingredients?
- Is a filler some thing put into a product for no reason at all?
- Is it an ingredient with zero nutritional value that lowers cost?
- If any of those statements are true, what ingredients constitute fillers?
- Is an ingredient a filler in one product but not another?
- Are "fillers" dangerous? Unhealthy? or Wasteful?
The way supplement companies talk about fillers, you'd think that they are just as dangerous to your horse as lions and tigers. But is your horse ACTUALLY in danger from being attacked by lions and tigers? No? Well, I'd argue that your horse has the same likelihood of being attacked by a lion as "fillers" have for ruining your horse's diet! My argument is that there is no such thing as a filler in today's equine nutrition world, and I'll show you why.
I lied...I actually DO know what companies mean when they say "No Fillers". I am absolutely certain that it's a marketing strategy to mislead you and only that. I say "mislead", because it diverts you from the original problem...you were looking at the wrong product category in the first place! Do stupid ingredients happen...yea...there are a lot stupid supplements being created every day, but "filling" a product with metaphorical garbage is not the norm.
Fillers in your horse treats! Oh My!!!
Reasons for an ingredient typically considered a "filler" fall into one of the following; 1) increase palatability, 2) increase caloric density, 3) decrease caloric density, 4) or provide a carrier to micronutrients that can not float around in free space by themselves. Those are GOOD reasons to add ingredients to a product, and any GOOD nutritionist will make that clear in the feeding directions and purpose statement. Some ingredients typically labeled as "fillers"beet pulp, dried distillers solubles, corn, and soybean hulls. Are these ingredients relatively cheap to add- yes, but who wants to pay $50 per bag of feed when you need your horse to gain, lose weight, or actually eat the product that you purchased? Beet pulp can increase or decrease the caloric density of the product (depending on purpose) while lowering sugar/starch while corn vastly increases caloric density and sugar/starch. Soybean hulls dramatically lower the non-structural carbohydrate (sugar/starch) value of a product, so we can not call it a purpose-less ingredient. Dried distillers grains will vastly increase palatability for vitamin/mineral mixes that are inherently bitter and nasty to taste, so can we call that a filler?
If you've been persuaded by a "no fillers"claim, I'd argue that you do not fully understand the purpose of the products or ingredients that you're looking at. You are definitely barking up the wrong tree looking for that lion or tiger that isn't there! Let me show you. A simple search for "horse feed fillers" came up with a long list of products. Despite the desperate ambiguity here, the marketing strategy is used a lot. Let's take Exhibit A & B below.
EXHIBIT A: One company that abuses the phrase "no fillers" is IMMUNE by ImmuBiome. Reading their online marketing they appear to suggest that products with wheat, soy, oat, flaxseed, molasses, rice bran or "any other ingredient in your grain" are bad in some way. I applaud their understanding that wheat middlings, soybean meal, flaxseed and rice bran increase feeding rate, but what is shocking is that they don't seem to understand WHY they are in "most horse feeds"!!! It also appears that they do not understand the vast complexity of equine diets and necessity for caloric variety. Maybe they haven't fed enough horses in their lifetime...???
Horse owners/feeders listen up...those ingredients are never put into feeds without a purpose. Wheat middlings and oats are sources of carbohydrate calories put into performance feeds and complete feeds (imagine a senior horse with no teeth that can't chew hay). Rice bran is a wonderful source of fat calories. If your horse does not need to gain weight, you shouldn't consider those products anyway. If your horse needs to gain weight, you should consider products with those ingredients. Soybean meal is a source of protein and lysine. If your horse lacks good quality protein, you need it. Molasses increases palatability. If your horse is picky, molasses is a good choice. If you see those ingredients in a product, the nutritionist put them in there for a REASON! ImmuBiome needs to go back to Equine Nutrition 101 "Feed Ingredients" lecture and take better notes.
Example B: Daily Dose Equine loves to throw in the "No Fillers" claim as well to make their benefits list longer, but they go a step further by suggesting that these "fillers" are actually "harmful additives". I'm REALLY not sure what they mean by "fillers", because when you look at the ingredients list of their ration balancers, Achiever or Achiever-Lite, they are using oats, barley, beet pulp, flax and alfalfa meal. Obviously these are in there to carry the vitamin/mineral mix and increase palatability, but if ImmuBiome is calling those ingredients "FILLERS" and Daily Dose Equine claims no fillers but uses those same ingredients, WHAT ARE WE TO THINK?!?!?!
Ok, I've handed everyone a real sour pickle very early on a Monday morning, and I apologize for that. The moral of my story is to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ignore any claims of "no fillers". Actually, stay away from any supplement company that uses the claim "no fillers", because it implies honestly that they do not understand feed categories or feed ingredients very well. You can learn more about these feed categories, better understand ingredients lists, and know how to spot "buyer beware" products by taking my ON DEMAND course called "How to Choose the Right Feeds and Supplements for Your Horse". I'll teach you how to look past many of these misleading marketing phrases to a more purposeful feed room. Choosing the right feed or supplement comes down to understanding the feeding directions and the ingredients list. Start there and can't be stumped by misleading marketing claims.