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Missing Data in FeedXL? What Now…?

In FeedXL you may notice that feed ingredients are shown as having ‘Partial Data’. This means that this feed ingredient’s label provided by the manufacturing company does not contain information for all of the nutrients examined by FeedXL.

Keep reading to learn why you’re seeing ‘Partial Data’, how to see which nutrients are ‘missing’, and what to do about it!

What Does ‘Partial Data’ Really Mean?

When adding feeds to our database, we use the most complete information the manufacturer provides. If they don’t provide all the nutrients, you will see it listed in FeedXL with ‘Partial Data’. That means you can include it in your diets, however, you will be working with incomplete data.

For ingredients that are shown as ‘Partial Data’, you can help us make the data better by contacting the manufacturer and asking them to provide missing data.

If you find data on packaging or online that we don’t have in FeedXL, you can ‘edit’ the ingredient and add it yourself for our review, or you can email us at support@feedxl.com with the missing information and we’ll add it for you.

How To Know Which Nutrients are ‘Missing’ and What You Can Do About It

 

 

If you want to see which nutrients are ‘missing’ information, simply click the ‘Partial Data’ link. A ‘light box’ will open that shows the nutrients we have a value for, indicated by a green tick. And which nutrients are unknown, indicted by a yellow ‘?’.

 

 

Then, if you want to see the actual values, tick the ‘I am not a robot’ box in the top right corner, play its game and you will see the actual numbers for that feed ingredient. And notice there is an ‘Edit’ button on this screen… remember that, we will come back to it in a minute.

 

 

So by now you know which data we have for a particular feed ingredient and which we don’t. Let’s look at what happens when we put this particular feed into a diet.

This horse is an 1100 lb (500 kg) horse in moderate work grazing average quality ‘Autumn’ pasture. When we add 4.5 lb of this feed to the diet, this is what our nutrient graph looks like:

 

 

Notice the little yellow triangles on Iodine, Sodium, Vitamin B1 and Folic Acid. This is telling you that at least one ingredient in this diet is missing data for this nutrient.

If you switch to the nutrient table and look at Iodine as an example, you will see a note telling you exactly which ingredients are missing data for this nutrient. In this case, it says:

Please note: This may or may not be a true deficiency. Purina Omolene #500 Competition may contain iodine but information on the amount is not currently available. In the case of commercial feeds you could contact the manufacturer(s) and request more complete information so we can include it in the FeedXL database.

 

How To Know if It’s a True Decifiency Or Not

This is where the tricky bit starts. How do you know if it is a true deficiency or not? And what can you do about it?

Knowing if it is a true deficiency is tough. In this case, because the feed is meeting copper and zinc as well as vitamin E requirement, you would be reasonably safe in assuming that the feed will meet the requirement for iodine, vitamin B1 and Folic Acid.

Selenium is low though and this may throw some confusion in. But remember in many places the addition of selenium is regulated and feed companies are cautious with the amount they add so they don’t exceed requirements for horses on high selenium forages. So I largely ignore selenium when I am making my mental estimations about what to do with diets like this.

What To Do If Your Diet Contains Feeds with Partial Data

What would I do with a diet like this?

First, I would contact Purina and say ‘Hey, can I please have the data for the nutrients that are missing from your label analysis’. In many cases companies are willing to supply this. If they do give you the additional data, you can then use the ‘Edit’ button I mentioned, to add the nutrients yourself. Or you can simply email the information to us at support@feedxl.com and we will enter it for you.

If you get the additional data this will make it really easy for you to balance the diet as you will know exactly what you are working with.

If you don’t have complete data, here is how I would proceed:

  1. Top up selenium levels. You will find selenium supplements in the blue ‘Balancers & Supplements’ tab.
  2. Add enough salt to get the sodium level to around 50% (the feed will contain some salt, so you don’t want to take this right up to 100%). And THEN, make sure your horse has access to free choice salt. You could use iodized salt in this case to give some iodine as well.
  3. If I have chosen a manufacturer I trust, I would then trust that there will be enough Vitamin B1 and Folic Acid in this formulation to meet these requirements.

Here is how my diet looks after making these adjustments:

 

Diet After Adjustments

Diet Graph After Adjustments

 

Advanced Nutrient Graph After Adjustments

Final Thoughts

Personally what I would actually do is really insist on the feed supplier providing the information, OR use a feed supplier that does supply full information.

The days are gone where feed companies should expect you as their customer to be happy to use a feed without knowing exactly what is in it. So speak up, ask for information and let your feed supplier know how important it is to you to know exactly what is in the feed or supplement products you are using! If they get enough people like you asking for this information you will create change!

We do ask for it as well, but it is far more powerful when you as their customer asks for this information.

In the meantime, if you are stuck or worried about how to interpret missing data in your horse’s diet, jump on our FeedXL Nutrition Forum and post your horse’s details, diet and the nutrient graph and tables and we will help you with what we think is best to do for your specific case!

Questions? Comments?

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Are Soybean Hulls Safe For Horses?

Are your soybean hulls safe? Because some of them definitely are NOT!

I love soybean! The protein is amazing and year in, year out we feed it to horses with stunning results in muscle, bone quality and milk production.

BUT… it MUST, MUST, MUST be heat treated correctly to make it safe to feed!

Why Must Soybean Be Cooked Before It’s Fed To Horses?

Uncooked soybean has a few anti-nutritional factors. The most significant one is trypsin inhibitor. Trypsin is a protein-digesting enzyme made by your horse. Your horse uses trypsin to cut up protein into amino acids so they can be absorbed.

Trypsin is like a little pair of scissors whose only job is to cut up (i.e. digest) protein. The trypsin inhibitor in soybean effectively ties a piece of string around the end of these protein-digesting scissors so they can no longer cut any protein up.

The end result… decreased protein digestion! So you can be feeding plenty of protein but if any soybean products you are feeding have active trypsin inhibitor, protein digestion will be reduced! A lot! And the problem is it reduces protein digestion from ALL protein in the diet, not just from the ingredient containing the trypsin inhibitor (i.e. the soybean hulls).

How To Know If Your Soybean Product Is Safe For Horses

I recently picked up two samples of soybean hulls from a large riding horse stable. The horses in the stable were being fed two different brands of soybean hull. The stable manager had gone to long lengths to balance these diets using FeedXL. To look at the diets on paper I expected lovely, rounded, well-conditioned horses.

But they weren’t. The horses being fed the most feed had little muscle. Spines were tent-shaped, rumps were flat and shoulders and chests thin and narrow. I was scratching my head. Something was wrong but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what… until I tested the soybean hulls!

Using a rapid colour test to check for likely active trypsin inhibitor, I tested them to make sure they had been heat-treated enough to destroy all trace of trypsin inhibitor. When heat treatment has been done well, the samples tested should show no trace of a colour change. If heat treatment was not done properly, and active trypsin inhibitor is still present, the sample turns pink. How pink determines how active the trypsin inhibitor will still be… more pink = more active trypsin inhibitor (which is not what we want to see).

And the results, to be honest, are scary! The hulls in the photo at the front lit up like a Christmas tree! Bright pink everywhere indicating lots of active trypsin inhibitor. These ones I suspect have received no heat treatment at all and are totally unsuitable for horses. Yet they were packaged and sold specifically for horses.

The ones in the back, you could see had received enough heat on the outside of the pellet to deactivate the trypsin inhibitor. BUT inside the pellets there was still pink indicating active trypsin inhibitor.

I called the stable feeding these and told them to stop feeding the first pellet immediately. No wonder their horses had no muscle! This product, which they had been feeding for close to 8 months, would have been stopping a lot of protein digestion. And this is not theory… you could SEE how much these horses were deficient in protein, despite their diet containing plenty of it.

The second pellet (in the back) I personally wouldn’t feed either. It will put your horse in a bit of a two steps forward, one or two steps back situation… helping with energy intake but partially blocking protein digestion.

When soybean is PROPERLY cooked, there should be ZERO trace of pink, as shown in the sample on the right here of well extruded full fat soybean. The sample on the left is raw, ground full fat soybean. It is, of course, bright pink… just to show how much the bean itself reacts with this colour test BEFORE it is cooked.

THIS extruded soybean (on the right) is how ALL soybean products SHOULD and in fact MUST look to be safe to feed to horses.

By now, if you are feeding soybean hulls you may be feeling a bit anxious…  wondering if the brand you are feeding is OK or not… it might be, but it may not be either.

How To Test For Trypsin Inhibitor in Soybean

And it is a little bit hard to advise you on what you should do. First step is probably to contact your soybean hulls supplier and ask them to provide any photos they may have of this quick color test check for trypsin inhibitor. Or for a lab analysis for likely trypsin inhibitor activity.

If you are in Australia, Symbio Labs in Brisbane (https://www.symbiolabs.com.au/) can test soybean hulls for you to show you if they have been heat treated enough to be safe to feed.

If you are in North America, you can order a test kit and test your soybean products yourself (https://canadianbio.com/Store) or we can ask around some laboratories for you to see who tests for trypsin inhibitor activity.

If you are elsewhere in the world please get in touch with a local feed or food testing laboratory and ask if they are able to assess soybean hulls for trypsin inhibitor activity.

Unfortunately yet another case of buyer beware. I have contacted the manufacturers of both of these products. Hopefully they will begin to heat treat their products correctly AND take a much more active role in testing products properly before selling them.

Questions? Comments?

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Q. Do You Need to Get Every Nutrient to 100% On The FeedXL Graph?

A. No. And in fact it would be impossible to create a diet that met exactly 100% of your horse’s requirements for every nutrient shown here.

Q. So if not 100%, where should the nutrient levels be sitting? And what is normal? Because some of the amounts on this graph look really high?! Isn’t that dangerous???

A. Good question! And the answer is it depends on the nutrient. Forages, for example, contain high levels of some nutrients like iron and potassium. Because diets often have lots of forage, these nutrients will almost always be high in the diet.

BUT that doesn’t mean it is dangerous. In fact if you push a nutrient to a dangerous level, the bar for that nutrient will turn red, like this, to warn you that the nutrient is now at its ‘upper safe limit’ and needs to be reduced.

Q. OK, that’s good! So I know if I get a nutrient WAY too high FeedXL will warn me. BUT I still don’t know what is normal for all of the nutrients. Where should I expect to see them?

A. Yep, let me walk you through them all! Let’s use this graph and go through each nutrient.

Digestible Energy

This should sit, for most horses, somewhere between 90% and 105% of requirements. SOME horses have a lower or higher need for digestible energy (calories) so you may see the odd horse sitting below 90% or above 105%.

BUT, if you do enter a horse and the Digestible Energy is low or high and this does not correspond accurately with what you are seeing in your actual horse (meaning if the Digestible Energy is low in the diet you enter into FeedXL, normally you would expect to see weight loss. If it is high, normally you would expect to see weight gain) you MAY need to double check the information you have entered into FeedXL as this is a small red flag that something has not been entered right.

For example, if you have entered bodyweight that is too high, the Digestible Energy level will be low and vice versa. Or if you haven’t weighed your feeds and hay or classified your pasture correctly and you have entered amounts or qualities that are too low, then Digestible Energy will appear low and vice versa.

Quick Tip: If Digestible Energy in your horse’s diet is below 90% or above 105%, check that you have entered your horse’s bodyweight and weights of feed and forages correctly.

Crude Protein

The Crude Protein level in the diet should always be at or above 100%. And it is best to try to keep it less than 200%. For performance horses that are stabled and in work I like to try to keep Crude Protein below 160%, if I can… it is not always possible!

Depending on your forages, you may see Crude Protein go very high (well above 200%). Is this an issue? Generally it’s not, but there are some situations (like very hot, humid climates or when a horse is stabled) that it is not ideal. Sometimes, if it is your pasture for example that is high in protein, there is not a lot you can do about it. If the horse is stabled and fed hay, you should try to switch some of the higher protein forage (e.g. alfalfa/lucerne) for a lower protein forage (like a meadow/grass hay), to bring the overall amount of Crude Protein in the diet down.

For detailed information on whether too much protein is an issue or not read our article here: https://feedxl.com/37-protein-can-you-feed-too-much/

Lysine

Lysine is your indicator of protein quality (you can read about Protein Quality here https://feedxl.com/30-understanding-protein-quality/). Lysine should sit between 100% and 150%. If it is lower, it indicates your protein quality is low and your horse will struggle to do things like build muscle or make milk. In fact, when lysine is low in a diet you will likely see your horse losing muscle over his topline… it’s an important nutrient to get right in the diet.

Lysine may get quite high in some diets depending on the amount and source of crude protein. But if you follow the guidelines above for Crude Protein, you will find Lysine levels will adjust accordingly.

Calcium

Calcium should be at or above 100% in the diet and I like to keep it below 200%. Ideally, I like it sitting below 150% but depending on the feeds and forages being used, it is not always possible to achieve this. The amount in the diet shown here is lovely, more than the horse needs but well below 200%.

It is important with calcium to also check the calcium to phosphorus ratio in the diet (look in the Nutrient Table) to make sure it is within the right limits with phosphorus. And if you like to use the extra ratios, you can also check its ratio with magnesium, which as a guide, should be 3: 1 or less.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus should be at or above 90% and ideally below 150%. You may see some diets with high phosphorus ingredients like Rice Bran pushing phosphorus higher than this. If it is above 150%, be sure to check the calcium to phosphorus ratio on the nutrient table to make sure this is still balanced (there MUST be more calcium in a diet than phosphorus).

NOTE: You cannot calculate the diets calcium to phosphorus ratio off the numbers on the graph. It is always best to read the ratio off the nutrient table. FeedXL will warn you if the calcium to phosphorus ratio is too high or low!

Copper, Zinc, Selenium and Iodine

I am grouping all of these trace minerals together because they all share the same characteristic that they are almost ALWAYS at low levels in forages. Which means they are nearly always deficient in diets before you add fortified feeds or supplements.

This means that you can aim to keep these nutrients as close to 100% as possible. The diet shown here uses a single vitamin/mineral supplement to meet trace mineral requirements.

This is what the diet looked like before I added the supplement:

You can see these 4 minerals are all low. I used the Supplement Finder (i.e. The BIG PINK BUTTON) to find a supplement that would fill all of these gaps. Ideally what you want to see when you use a single supplement is that at least one of these minerals is sitting very close to 100%. That is your green flag that you have the amount of supplement at the right level. Increasing the amount from this point is just a waste as all requirements are already met, while reducing it would mean the amount of this nutrient (selenium in this example, which is sitting at 101%) would no longer be meeting requirements.

The same rules also apply when using a fortified feed to meet vitamin and mineral requirements. Except that you also have to consider the amount of Digestible Energy the feed is adding.

This is not a super simple concept, so if you are confused, please keep asking questions, as the more you understand this, the easier it will be to use FeedXL effectively.

Quick tip: You can try to keep copper, zinc, selenium and iodine as close to 100% of requirements as possible. If these nutrients are above 200% I would be trying to find ways to reduce them. This may mean switching feeds or supplements!

Manganese, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium

These minerals are almost always HIGH in forages. Therefore you will almost always see them sitting well above your horse’s 100% level in the diet. Is this a concern? No. There are always exceptions, but for the majority of horses, no, it is not a problem when these minerals are well above 200%.

Thing is, because these nutrients are rich in forages, it is almost impossible to get them closer to the 100% mark. You could reduce the amount of forage, but the downside of that (higher risk of ulcers, boredom, compromised hindgut health, higher risk of dehydration and colic) far outweighs any potential upside. In fact unless levels in the forage are extreme and the bar for a nutrient goes red, there really is no upside to reducing forage.

If you are concerned, because sometimes it does look scary, just read the notes in the Nutrient Table or the hover box on the graph to put your mind at ease. For example, Iron in this diet is at 331%. Which seems really high! But, the notes will tell you:

“While Poet’s iron is higher than it needs to be it is still within the safe range. Poet’s upper safe level for iron is 6,019 mg or 943% of his RDI”

So the upper safe limit is 943%. This diet is a long way off that, so even though 331% seems high, it is very much within the safe zone!

For those of you who like to look at the iron: copper: zinc: manganese ratio, it is calculated for you in the Nutrient Table.

Sodium and Chloride

Sodium and chloride are the two components of ordinary table salt. So together they can make a feed taste very salty. If a feed gets too salty your horse may stop eating it, because it simply doesn’t taste good (and can’t blame them!). So I like to keep sodium as close to 100% as I can, by adjusting the amount of salt in the diet.

There are a few exceptions. If your horse is in a very hot and humid climate you may need to feed more (more info here https://feedxl.com/40-electrolytes/) or if you are trying to increase water intake for some reason, more salt is useful. But under normal conditions, sitting sodium at or very close to 100% is best. BUT also always make sure your horse has access to free choice salt!

Chloride is a bit of a lucky dip and its final level in a diet will depend on the amount in your forages. I don’t pay too much attention to where chloride ends up. In fact I don’t think I have ever had to adjust a diet specifically to change the level of chloride (for any dairy nutritionists reading this, it does play a big role in DCAD, but that is another story for another day 🙂 ).

Vitamin A

If you are obsessive about getting nutrients close to 100%, Vitamin A is your friend! You will notice it is nearly always sitting on 100% of requirements. Why?

Well, in forage, the ‘vitamin A’ content is not active vitamin A. It is in the form of Beta Carotene which can be converted to vitamin A IF your horse needs vitamin A. So they will only convert it if they need it.

FeedXL models this physiology and takes into account ALL vitamin A from feeds and supplements as this will be an active form of vitamin A (which can become toxic so we need to count all of it). But then FeedXL will only convert vitamin A to active form from forages IF your horse needs more vitamin A.

For example, if your feed + supplement provides 80% of your horse’s requirement for vitamin A, FeedXL will just top up the remaining 20% of vitamin A from forages to meet 100% of your horse’s requirement. Which is why Vitamin A is very often sitting right on 100%.

If your feeds and supplements provide more than 100% of your horse’s requirement for vitamin A you will see it above 100%. This is OK, as long as it is within safe limits (though personally I would keep it under 200%).

Vitamin E, Vitamin B1 and Folic Acid

I am grouping these three together because they will often be low in diets before you add some kind of fortified feed or supplement. And they are all relatively expensive nutrients, so for the sake of cost, you want to make sure your horse’s requirement is met, but if levels of these vitamins go above 200%, you may be paying a lot for nutrients your horse doesn’t really need. I like to keep them between 100% and 200% if I can. In the case of this diet, the supplement I used was rich in Folic Acid so it has tipped above 200%, but the E and B1 are at nice levels so I am not going to worry about the Folic Acid in this case.

Quick Tip: Keeping these nutrients below 200% will make sure the diet is not excessively expensive!

Vitamin B2, Niacin, Vitamin B5 and Vitamin B6

This crew are all grouped together because forage is OFTEN high in these vitamins so you will normally see levels WELL ABOVE 100% for all of these vitamins. Is that something you should be concerned about? Not at all. In fact all of these except vitamin B6 are considered non-toxic. And the vitamin B6 upper safe level is very high (in this diet the upper safe limit is 5000%!!).

Quick Tip: I essentially ignore these nutrients as long as they are ‘green’. They will almost always be well above 100%, but it is nothing to be concerned about!

I hope that helps you a little to read the graph and to put your mind at ease about what is and is not normal for certain nutrients. If you have questions, please be sure to ask in the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Forum on Facebook!! We truly want you to know as much as you can about what FeedXL is showing you!

5 Ways One Balanced Diet Can Be Better Than Another

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. 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:

  1. Feed as much forage as possible to meet digestible energy requirements.
  2. Use as many different types of forage as possible.
  3. Never feed uncooked grains!
  4. Use oils that have an omega 3 to 6 profile that will complement your horse’s diet; and
  5. 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!

Magnesium Oxide for Horses

Magnesium oxide. It’s one of those ingredients people love to disagree over, should we use it, shouldn’t we use it, is it bioavailable or not for horses??

Part of this contention is due to the fact that magnesium oxide is a created ingredient… it is cooked in a process called calcination, that reacts magnesite with oxygen to create magnesium oxide.

Like all things, it can be made well, or it can be made poorly, and this then impacts on whether it will be bioavailable or not. So it’s not like limestone (calcium carbonate) that is mined for example and is generally always the same.

So when reading about magnesium oxide for horses, keep in mind that most studies do not report the conditions under which it was manufactured OR its final particle size, both of which have a huge impact on final bioavailability.

I still believe that quality magnesium oxide is a very useful source of magnesium for horses, but then I am very fussy when it comes to where it comes from and how it is produced!

We have information on various sources of magnesium for anyone who would like to read some more here: https://feedxl.com/36-which-form-of-magnesium-is-best/

And for anyone who loves details, this is a now old but still informative paper on this subject (Beede et al 1992). It is a Dairy paper but talks in detail about factors affecting magnesium oxide bioavailability. http://dairy.ifas.ufl.edu/dpc/1992/Beede.pdf

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS?

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Grain Free Horse Feed: What Does it Actually Mean?

It can be a bit confusing to get to the bottom of what grain free horse feed really means, especially when you see it printed on a feed bag derived mostly from grain products. In this post we’re unravelling the technical classification of ‘grain free’, and helping you find a suitable feed, even if your horse is grain-intolerant.

How we classify ‘grain free’ in FeedXL

Here at FeedXL we classify feeds in our database as being either ‘grain-free’ or ‘contains grain’, so that if one of our members clicks that their horse is ‘grain intolerant’ they will see the feeds and supplements available to them listed either in black (meaning it is grain free) or ‘red’ (meaning it contains grain).

Occasionally though we are questioned about certain feeds that we have classified as ‘contains grain’ and are sometimes told we have them classified incorrectly because the feed only contains a grain by-product like wheat midds (or bran, pollard, broll, millmix, millrun… many names for similar ingredients).

So does containing a grain by-product mean the feed should be classified as ‘grain-free’ or as ‘contains grain’?

Our position on ‘grain free’ horse feeds

There are companies who make feeds that are almost 100% wheat midds or rice bran and splashed all over the packaging it says grain free! Technically they aren’t but they are classified like this because they only contain PARTS of a grain and no whole grains.

The issue (for us and for horses) is that these by-products, while not whole grains, are derived 100% from grain and still have many of the same characteristics (same proteins, still high in starch, albeit not as high as the whole grains etc). So if someone really needs to avoid wheat or starch for example and they find one of these ‘grain-free’ feeds made with wheat midds there is an issue born from a technical classification that doesn’t tell the full story.

Calling feeds with wheat midds or rice bran ‘grain-free’ would be like saying soybean meal is ‘soybean free’ just because it no longer contains any whole soybeans. Or saying copra meal is coconut free because there are no whole coconuts. Technically yes, they don’t contain the entire original ingredient but for us (and thus FeedXL) we are just not comfortable saying something is grain free when it isn’t.

Imagine the consequences in human foods if manufacturers were allowed to say ‘wheat free’ if a product only contained midds or peanut free if it only contained peanut oil. Much more serious in humans we know but just using them as examples to make the point.

Keep an eye on starch and sugar content!

For horses, what starts to become more important in many cases though is the actual level of starch and sugars in a product. So if we were looking at a diet for a laminitic pony and considering using a feed with wheat midds in it, the important thing is how much starch are those midds contribution to the final feed. If total starch and sugar content is still below 10 to 12% then it should be OK. If it isn’t, then it doesn’t matter how much a feed might claim to be grain free, its analysis says it won’t be safe based on its actual starch and sugar content.

Here at FeedXL, we firmly believe we need to stop confusing horse people with technical classifications to allow loophole claims on feed packaging. This is just our opinion but we have seen pretty devastating effects in horses because they have been fed a feed claiming to be grain-free and therefore their owners believed it would be safe to feed. It is something that shouldn’t happen!

How FeedXL can help you choose the best feed for your horse

When you click ‘grain-intolerance’ in FeedXL you will be able to see which feeds are truly grain free and which are not. If you select that your horse has laminitis or insulin resistance you will see the feed ingredient options classified instead by starch and sugar content.

If you want to save yourself some time finding suitable feeds for horses with conditions that require either grain-free or low starch and sugar feeds give FeedXL a go! Check out our plans and pricing here.

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS?

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What You Should Know About Phosphorus and Phytate

Horses are unique because they absorb phosphorus from their hindgut… which is a stroke of genius on a horse’s part… here is why.

Phosphorus in grains, legumes/oilseeds is bound up in a compound called phytate. ‘Phytate bound phosphorus’ is as good as indigestible for most monogastrics who absorb phosphorus from their small intestine (like pigs and poultry).

But horses enlist the help of their oh so useful hindgut bacteria to break down the phytate for them and release the phosphorus for absorption! Clever!!

So if you ever read statements about specific ingredients like soybean meal containing indigestible phosphorus because they contain phytate, think two things:

1. ALL grains and legumes/oilseeds contain phytate; and
2. Horses have got a useful arrangement with bacteria and a different site of absorption (their hindgut) that allows them to access the phosphorus.

It’s a very well designed aspect of the horse’s gastrointestinal tract!!

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Trypsin Inhibitor in Soybean

Soybean naturally contains an anti-nutritional factor called trypsin inhibitor. Trypsin inhibitor is a compound that actually blocks the action of trypsin (which is an enzyme, or as I call them, a little pair of scissors, in the horses gut that cuts up protein so it can be absorbed by the horse). When trypsin is blocked by soybean a horse can no longer digest protein… not very useful right?!

So if soybean contains stuff that stops a horse from digesting protein, why on earth would we use it in a horse’s ration???

This is talked about a lot and often given as a reason why soybean should not be fed to horses. BUT, if you’ve been hanging around us here at FeedXL for a while you will have heard us say many times that if soybean is cooked properly trypsin inhibitor is destroyed which then makes soybean perfectly safe to feed. And given it is the best of the best when it comes to quality plant protein it makes a valuable addition to diets in so many ways.

To check soybean products to see if they have been cooked properly there is a test kit called Soycheck (http://lsbproducts.com/…/46/understanding-soybean-processing)… this kit gives a rapid visual check on whether soybean has been cooked enough to destroy the trypsin inhibitor. Soybean products that still have active trypsin inhibitor will show red coloring while properly cooked products will have no red coloring at all.

The photo above shows a test we did on Tuesday this week. We had completely raw full fat soybean on the left which is clearly bright red indicating it has all of its trypsin inhibitor still present. The product on the right is Pryde’s Protein Pak, which has been extruded and shows no hint of red coloring to demonstrate beautifully how, when done properly, trypsin inhibitor can be destroyed without destroying the actual soybean and all of its amazing protein! Happy days for those of us who love the benefits soybean can bring to a diet!

Vitamin B6 for Horses

This little vitamin is not talked about much in equine nutrition, mainly because we still don’t know exactly what a horse’s dietary requirement is. We also assume a large part of their requirement is fulfilled by the Vitamin B6 produced by the bacteria in their hindgut.

We do know B6 is important for building muscle. I just saw a very recently published paper looking at Vitamin B6 supplementation and muscle development in rabbits. (http://www.publish.csiro.au/AN/AN15807…)

I know a rabbit is very different animal to a horse, but from a gut physiology and nutrition perspective they are actually really similar, so I thought I would take a look to see what the researchers found.

Vitamin B6 supplementation was shown to significantly alter protein metabolism and increase the ratio of fore + hindleg muscle weight to body weight (i.e. supplemented rabbits had more leg muscle). Interesting!

We do track B6 intake in our Pro FeedXL plans … this just reinforces to me though how important a horse’s base diet is when it comes to achieving specific outcomes. For example, if you are wanting your horse to build muscle but you aren’t meeting basic nutrient requirements (like vitamin B6) you could add all the fancy muscle building supplements you like to the diet and they won’t help!

You can’t build muscle unless you get your basics right first! Here at FeedXL, we can help you with that! Take a look at our plans and pricing here.

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What Is an Organic Mineral?

We all hear the term ‘organic mineral’ being used in horse nutrition. But what does it actually mean?

Its definition is pretty basic… an organic mineral is simply a mineral that is attached to something that contains carbon.

For anyone who can stretch their mind back far enough to the sometimes dreaded chemistry classroom, you might remember a subject called ‘Organic Chemistry’ which dealt with the chemical goings on of ‘carbon-containing compounds’. So a mineral attached to a carbon-containing compound is called an ‘organic mineral’.

For example, copper sulfate is an inorganic mineral, as it is simply one copper attached to one sulfur and four oxygen atoms (i.e. no carbon). Copper proteinate on the other hand is copper attached to a tiny piece of protein. Protein contains carbon atoms, so a copper proteinate is classified as an organic mineral.

It is easy to be confused by the word ‘organic’ these days as it is most commonly used to describe food produced without the use of synthetic herbicides, fertilisers or feed additives. You need to be careful not to transfer the mostly positive associations of organic food onto the use of organic minerals in horse nutrition.

The benefits of organic minerals for horses, perhaps with the exception of organic selenium, are largely undocumented… yet, unfortunately, widely claimed. I will write more on this another day! 

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