20 November 1998

Naked oats energy boost finds followers

NAKED oats, a variety without husks, have more energy, protein and oil then any other grain and are being used by more and more people looking for top performance from fit horses.

They are distributed by Newmarket World Wide Services to trainers, competition yards and studs in the UK, Hong Kong and Japan and by Dengie to small competition yards and studs.

The growth in the horse market, estimated at 10-15% a year, demonstrates the enthusiasm for its properties. Dr Catherine Orme, Dengies equine products manager, explains: "It is very energy dense at over 15MJ/kgDM and is higher than any compounded performance feed. It is also 9% oil which provides two and a half times as much energy as carbohydrate."

While the paper figures are excellent, the digestibility of naked oats makes them even better. "Without the husk, it is like having the armour plating off. It is more digestible and more starch can be digested in the upper part of the tract," says Catherine.

&#42 Starch to glucose

"For horses it is more efficient to convert starch to glucose in the upper tract than breaking it down to volatile fatty acids in the hind gut."

This efficiency means smaller volumes can be fed which is valuable for horses with small appetites or, conversely, those that need to lose weight yet have a high work demand.

The feeding properties of naked oats also make them a popular inclusion in the diets of humans, dog, broilers, birds and piglets. Mike Jeffery, sales director of the Superioats Company, which handles all the naked oats grown in the UK says: "The market is growing at a rate of 30% a year, with particularly significant growth in the dog food and piglet creep areas."

Farmers from Scotland to Kent grow the oats on contract. Although yields are slightly lower than those of conventional oats, the Superioats Company ensures the guaranteed price will make the returns comparable with second wheats or barley.

The crop then has the additional advantage of a high demand for the straw. Richard Nunn, who farms 223ha (550 acres) at Ousden, near Newmarket, sells all his straw to local trainers at a premium, giving an additional return of £197/ha (£80/acre).

"There is a terrific volume of straw, which I believe has caused some problems for combines – but not mine."

He sows naked oats in a double break before rape, then followed by wheat and barley. He was one of the original growers and has over 10 years experience with the crop. "It is no different from ordinary oats, except it is in greater demand so is more profitable.

"It is easy to grow. It particularly likes the wet, and following this rainy year I have had my best ever harvest of 2.75t an acre."

In the past there were problems with black grass, but that can now be controlled by Lexus. A growth regulator is also used to control stalk length, so crops do not go down.

Mr Nunns arable is sprayed according to a SOYL analysis. "Not much nitrogen goes on. It is about 90 units which is put on late to try and get the protein up. It also responds well to manganese, which goes on twice through the summer."

So if wet summers are likely to become a feature, naked oats could have a lot to get farmers going, as well as horses.

Inquiries: The Superioats Company (01284-729210)

Dengie (01621-842211)

Newmarket World Wide Services (01638-668606).