We recently had a member of our nutrition forum ask ‘Can one balanced diet be better than another, or is the key point that it is balanced?’
This is probably the best question I have ever been asked! And the answer is absolutely YES! One balanced diet can be better than another!
BUT, before I explain why, I just want to say that diets balanced using FeedXL will be 1000 (or more) times better than a diet that is unbalanced and not meeting a horse’s basic nutrient requirements. So take heart that if your diet is balanced on FeedXL, you are way ahead in keeping your horse healthy.
So balanced diets that meet all of your horse’s known nutrient requirements are better than unbalanced diets that do not meet requirements.
But, one balanced diet can certainly be better than another.
Here are 5 examples of what makes one diet better than another:
|Factor||OK Option||Better Option||Why is this better?|
|Forage Amount||Diet just meets the FeedXL minimum forage requirement.||Forage is a major component of the diet and is used to meet as much of a horse’s daily digestible energy requirement as possible.||The more forage in a diet the better your horse’s gut health will be. If you feed a balanced diet but your horse’s gut is unhealthy, your horse’s overall health will be limited.|
|Forage Variety||You feed only one or two different types of forage. For example Teff hay and alfalfa/lucerne chaff or pellets.||Your forage (pasture, hay, chaff, forage pellets or cubes) is made up of several different plant species. For example, your pasture has 3 different grass species plus clover, and you feed a mixed meadow hay plus alfalfa/lucerne chaff.||Lots of forage variety gives good fibre variety and this supports a diverse and robust hindgut microbiome that is less prone to disturbance and more able to provide the nutrients, immune function and hormone support a horse needs. PLUS…while we know a lot about many nutrients a horse needs (like copper, vitamin E etc) there are MANY nutrients (like the omega fatty acids and most of the essential amino acids) that we know your horse needs. We just don’t know how much he needs. Feeding a large variety of forages improves the chances you will meet requirements for all of these nutrients we don’t understand very well yet.|
|Uncooked Grains||The ONLY OK option for uncooked grain is oats. ALL other grains must be cooked. They are definitely not OK to feed uncooked.||All grains are easier to digest when they are cooked (boiled, extruded, steam flaked, micronized). In fact you must only feed barley, corn and rice if it has been cooked. Feeding any of these grains uncooked is going to make your horse sick.||The starch from cooked grains can be almost fully digested in your horse’s small intestine. Meaning less starch is allowed to get into your horse’s hindgut to feed the ‘bad’ bacteria. If you do feed raw grains, your horse’s hindgut will become acidic, bad bacteria will flourish and your horse’s gut and overall health will suffer.|
|Using Oil||All oils are ‘safe’ and all provide the same amount of digestible energy in a diet. But, some oils like sunflower and corn oil are extremely high in omega 6 and can unbalance your horse’s omega 3 to 6 ratio.||Canola oil provides a good blend of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and is particularly useful in diets that contain no grain to provide the omega 6 your horse will need. Flax/Linseed oil is very high in omega 3 and is super useful in high grain diets to balance the omega 3 to 6 ratio.||If you feed too much omega 6 in a diet it can result in excessive inflammation. Choosing your oils to match your diet (a little like choosing your wine to match your meal) means you will meet omega 3 and 6 requirements and keep the ratio between the two balanced.|
|Protein Quality||As long as you meet your horse’s protein AND lysine requirement in FeedXL you will be doing a good job of providing enough protein and essential amino acids. BUT, not all proteins are created equally. Cottonseed meal, for example, contains lysine, but 60% of it is unavailable for absorption. Or flax/linseed meal is high in protein but it is low in essential amino acids.||Choose premium quality proteins for your horse’s diet so that when FeedXL shows you that crude protein and lysine requirements are met, you also have an excellent chance of meeting all requirements for the essential amino acids. This includes choosing things like a component of soybean in preference to an unnamed ‘vegetable protein meal’ and/or using some alfalfa/lucerne together with your grassy forages.||When you feed better quality protein you will get more muscle! When you are able to use high-quality sources of protein that meet your horse’s essential amino acid requirements you will have a better chance of 1. Providing enough of the amino acid ‘Leucine’ to switch muscle building on; and 2. Providing the building blocks needed to actually build muscle.|
So if you want the best possible diet, here are my top 5 tips:
- Feed as much forage as possible to meet digestible energy requirements.
- Use as many different types of forage as possible.
- Never feed uncooked grains!
- Use oils that have an omega 3 to 6 profile that will complement your horse’s diet; and
- Use high quality proteins.
If you can do all of that AND have a balanced diet, your horse will be ready to take on the world!
Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?
We would love to welcome you to our FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group. Ask questions and have them answered by PhD and Masters qualified equine nutritionists and spend time with like-minded horse owners. It’s free!