Straight to the horse's mouth -- Rochester equine specialist launches new novel feed
Rochester’s Mary Hartman, an equine specialist known for her popular line of nutritional horse biscuits, is launching a new specialty feed that mimics horses' natural diet.
While horses today typically live in climate controlled barns eating hay and alfalfa, that’s a far cry from their natural diet of foraging wild grasses, weeds and flowers.
Rochester’s Mary Hartman, an equine specialist known for creating a popular line of nutritional horse biscuits , believes the way horses are being fed is making them sick and forces owners to rely on a wide array of supplements made to keep them healthy. It's a more than $1 billion annual industry in the U.S.
“Most of what we feed our animals is highly processed food. There’s not a lot of diversity in what we give them. Horse dietary supplements are a confusing quagmire,” said Hartman. “I thought I’m just going to make something, so when I feed my horse I know he is getting what he needs.”
So, building off her chia biscuits product line, Hartman started crafting a food pellet with all of the nutrition, vitamins and nutrients horses need as a base. Then she went farther by researching what wild foods horses would find at different times of the year, like flowers, weeds and even bee pollen, to create a seasonal “garnish” to provide a well-rounded diet to keep horses healthy and happy.
“I wanted to take this really beautiful blend of all of these herbal foods and combine them with a high-value nutrient-dense pellet, so I can change the blend seasonally but maintain the overall nutritional density for a horse to try to remedy some of the deficits in their diets,” said Hartman. “That’s something that has not been done before this.”
While she had experience in making her successful line of specialty Chia biscuits, Hartman looked for help in crafting this new type of horse feed. That led her to the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute , a state-funded nonprofit that spurs economic development by helping entrepreneurs develop and launch new products.
Alan Doering, a senior scientist who runs AURI’s Coproducts Utilization Laboratory in Waseca, has worked with the development of a lot of animal feeds. However, Hartman’s vision was different from anything he had seen.
“I was intrigued by the whole idea,” he said. “She simply wanted to make a better feed.”
His programs and machines were "challenged" a bit by Hartman’s introduction of dried flowers, dehydrated carrots, Manuka honey and other novel ingredients.
“It certainly was the first time we ever worked with bee pollen or chia seed,” Doering said with a chuckle. “This was a really fun project to work with.”
With AURI’s help in the creation and finding suppliers for her novel ingredients, Hartman’s very specific vision became what she calls StableFeed. The nutrient pellets are combined with seasonal mixes of dried flowers, weeds and other wild ingredients.
“I’m basically foraging for the horses,” she said. “I didn’t add anything that didn’t have a real purpose of being there.”
StableFeed will soon be available for sale online and at select tack stores along with the re-branded Chia biscuits in packaging designed by Full Punch in Vancouver, British Columbia. It is all produced by Hartman's Fundamental Feed company. The biscuits' production is expanding in Rochester. However, the feed is being made in Montana, where the bulk of the wheat grass and specialty hays needed for the mix are now grown.
While Hartman and Doering would like to see those crops grown in Minnesota to move production closer to home, that’s a goal for the future.
StableFeed is scientifically proven to be good for horses, particularly for their gut health, but what do the horses think of it?
“My horse, who is an extremely picky eater, would start dancing in his stall when he saw me coming with the baggies of StableFeed,” said Hartman. “Our tests have found palatability is ridiculously high.”
She credits Doering and AURI’s team for helping her take her unique vision from a concept to a product.
The bottom line for Hartman is that she wants to improve horses' lives and, by extension, their owners’ lives with her premium feed.
“If you pay more on the front end for your food, you don’t have to pay more on back end for palliative care for your sick horse,” she said. “You end up not only saving money, but you get many more years of enjoyment from your relationship with your animal.”