Tag Archive for: supplements

Diet Lacking in Vitamin E?

We are frequently asked about how to add Vitamin E to a horse’s diet when all other nutrient requirements are being met. Vitamin E is abundant in fresh green forages and many horses will meet their daily requirement of Vitamin E with adequate intake of good quality pasture. Vitamin E declines over time in stored feeds including preserved forages. Most commercial pre-mix feeds and vitamin & mineral supplements account for this and are formulated with supplementary Vitamin E.

At times when pasture is average or poor quality, overgrazed or simply not available, diets which previously had adequate Vitamin E may become low as a result. Sometimes even with a good quality pre-mix feed or vitamin & mineral supplement, the Vitamin E levels may still not be adequate within the diet.

Additional vitamin E can be safely added to diets and can be found in FeedXL’s blue ‘Balancers & Supplements’ tab under ‘Antioxidants’. Antioxidant supplements commonly contain both selenium and vitamin E. Unless the diet requires additional selenium, look for supplements which contribute only vitamin E to your horse’s diet.

To find vitamin E only supplements, click on ‘Complete Data’ which is located below the ingredient name when editing diets or browsing ingredients and FeedXL will show you which nutrients that product contains. (See the image in this post).

Another consideration when choosing a suitable Vitamin E supplement is the form of Vitamin E to supplement with. Natural vitamin E is reported to be more effective in raising plasma  Vitamin E concentrations when compared with a synthetic source. To know which is which you will need to read the manufacturer supplied information for each product on their website or product labels.

 

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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. (https://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.

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

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Find Supplements to Fix This Diet – It’s Here!!

‘Find supplements to fix this diet’ has (finally) made it to FeedXL Beta! We are just a bit excited about this as finally we have the beginning of a feature that will help so many of you answer the difficult question of ‘OK, so FeedXL has found a few gaps in my horse’s diet… what on earth do I add now to fill them?’

In its current state it is suggesting some very neat and useful diets, BUT it is pretty ugly, doesn’t do any sort of decimal place rounding, presents options to you in a boring spreadsheet format and can’t fix or provide options for all diets … think of it as seeing someone first thing in the morning right out of bed. Mostly functional but not so pretty to look at!

With time over the next few months we will brush FeedXL’s hair, give it a coffee and put on its day clothes so this new feature is more presentable. BUT, for now we really need you all to help us to refine the actual functionality… in particular to tell us about diets it is unable to give you any options for so we can make it a little bit smarter 

Have fun… and we take no responsibility for the possible addictive nature of this new feature!! 

 

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!

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Chickpeas For Horses: Should They Be Cooked First?

There has been a little bit of discussion of late about chickpeas and whether they need to be cooked prior to being fed to horses. Big apology from me (Nerida) as it seems I have confused the issue and created some angst. So, to clear the waters I have muddied, here is some better information:

4 things to consider when feeding chickpeas to horses

  1. Chickpeas do contain anti-nutritional factors including trypsin inhibitor, which is the same as the main anti-nutritional factor found in soybeans. Trypsin inhibitor does exactly as its name suggests, it inhibits/stops trypsin, an enzyme in the small intestine which chops up protein into smaller pieces so it can be absorbed. Too much trypsin inhibitor in the gut can reduce protein digestion to such an extent that protein deficiency will become apparent. This doesn’t sound good for chickpeas!
  2. BUT, on reading about the amount of trypsin inhibitor in chickpeas it is much, much lower than soybean. I can find published values of 15 TUI (Trypsin Units Inhibited – reflects quantity of trypsin that has its activity inhibited) for chickpeas while values for soybean are more like 80 TUI. Reading papers and interpreting units is proving exceedingly difficult as it seems everyone likes to express their TUI units in slightly different ways so just be careful with this!
  3. Chickpeas have been fed raw to pigs at levels of up to 88% without affecting measured parameters to determine growth and feed conversion. A pretty good indication the anti-nutritional factors aren’t too anti-nutritional as growing pigs will show us very quickly if something is not right. This study did however find that adding additional methionine improved growth performance in chickpeas.
  4. Chickpeas are routinely used uncooked in pig diets in Australia at levels up to 20% of the diet without any ill effect. They typically aren’t fed to younger pigs less than 20 kg bodyweight.

Updates in FeedXL…

Based on all of this we have now updated our information in FeedXL to read:

Chickpeas are classified as a pulse, which is a seed from a leguminous plant. Chickpeas are rarely included in horse diets but can be fed as a protein and energy supplement in much the same way lupins or faba beans are used. The protein is of moderate to good quality with good concentrations of the essential amino acid lysine. They may however be too low in methionine for some classes of horses.

Like most pulses, chickpeas appear to contain some anti-nutritional factors including a trypsin inhibitor, which blocks the activity of the protein digesting trypsin enzyme in the gut and can negatively affect protein digestion. The anti-trypsin activity of chickpeas is however much lower than that of soybean, with chickpeas expected to ‘block’ around 15% of trypsin enzyme activity in the gut compared to more than 80% of trypsin activity being blocked when raw soybean is fed.

Chickpeas should therefore be safe to feed without any form of heat treatment to mature horses at levels of no more than 20% of their ‘hard feed’. If larger amounts were to be fed, heat treatment is recommended. Chickpeas would be best heat treated prior to feeding if being fed to horses younger than 12 months of age.

As always our information is quite conservative, but we prefer to play it safe with so many people using our service with so many varied scenarios.

I hope that helps everyone who has had a recent interest in the use of chickpeas in horse rations.

 

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!

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Joint Supplements: Are They Beneficial?

Joint supplements! A lot of you use them, and while there is theoretical justification for their use there is still very little science that actual shows a proven benefit in feeding them.

A study just published does however lend some nice information in this area. It is both blinded (i.e. the people feeding the horses, the people assessing the horses for various measures of movement and levels of comfort don’t know if the horses was on the joint treatment or not at the time of assessment so it couldn’t influence what they ‘saw’ and recorded. And the author who analyzed the data was blind to which horse was on what treatment so they too could not be influenced) and is also a crossover study where each horse in the study was on both the joint treatment and the placebo and assessed on both so you could see changes in the same horse as opposed to changes between two different groups of horses where one group is treated and one group given a placebo.

This study also used ‘objective’ measurements of gait using high speed motion capture to assess movement of the hind legs at the trot.

The results are interesting, with significant improvements in lameness scores (less lameness in treated horses), less response to flexion tests and improvements in muscle tone reported (plus many other results).

The full paper is available here for full download for the next week or so (https://www.sciencedirect.com/…/article/pii/S0737080616304749) for those of you interested in reading it.

A good time to remember too that not all joint supplements are created equally as far as the ingredients and amount of ingredient per dose they contain. The supplement used in this study was ‘FlexAbility’, from Science Supplements, UK; it contains chondroitin sulfate 162 g/kg, glucosamine 190 g/kg, vitamin C 80 g/kg, methyl sulfonyl methane 256 g/kg, docosahexaenoic acid 66 g/kg, eicosapentaenoic acid 34 g/kg For those of you who use FeedXL, if you look in the ‘Health’ tab in your results you will see a breadown there of the various joint nutrients and how much of each are in your horse’s diet when you use a joint supplement.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

Oil for Horses: Good or Bad?

Hard working horses have enormous requirements for energy that are traditionally filled using high grain rations fed together with chaff and hay. However, feeding large amounts of grain does come with its own set of issues which can include colic, hindgut acidosis, nervous or fiery behaviour, tying up and loss of appetite. Oil has gained popularity in recent years as a substitute source of energy for working horses, but is it effective, how much can be fed, are all oils equal in the benefits they can provide and do they cause any health issues of their own?

A little bit goes a long way

The biggest benefit oils provide working horses is their very high energy content relative to grains. Oils contain nearly 3 times more energy than oats, with 400 mls of vegetable oil providing as much energy as 1 kg of oats. The real benefit in this is you can reduce the size and sheer bulk of feed a horse has to consume without reducing calorie intake, allowing you to get enough ‘feed’ into horses with poor appetites. The end result being these horses can hold their weight and continue to train and compete for longer than they otherwise would on a more traditional diet.

Reducing heat load

Oils generate less heat during the digestive and metabolic processes than an equivalent amount of grain or forage. Feeding oil also means that you can feed less grain and still meet energy requirements. Combined, this means that high oil diets place less of a heat load on working horses, reducing electrolyte losses and the amount they need to sweat to stay cool, a big bonus for hard working horses, especially those training and racing in hot environments or working over very long distances.

Saving glycogen

Fatty acids from oils are the preferred fuel for muscles during slow and medium pace work while glycogen is the only source of energy a muscle can use during sprints and strenuous exercise. Once a horse runs out of glycogen its muscles fatigue and the horse will slow down and lose the ability to perform at the level it is capable of. Feeding oil in diets provides a source of fatty acids for muscles to burn during the warm up and slower phases of a competition, meaning muscles are able to conserve valuable glycogen and avoid fatigue.

Problem solving

‘Problem horses’ and particularly those that tie up or get excited and nervous on high grain diets will often benefit from rations that provide a portion of the dietary energy from oils. It is thought that the positive effects seen in these horses on high oil diets is due more to the reduction in grain intake as opposed to the addition of oil, but using oil in the diet allows you to reduce grain intake without compromising energy intake and performance.

Oils aint oils

All oils contain virtually the same amount of digestible energy, but there are other differences you may want to consider when looking to purchase an oil, including:

Essential Fatty Acid Content: Horses need omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in their diet. Grains are naturally high in Omega 6, so for horses on a high grain diet, it is preferable to choose an oil with some omega 3 content. The table below shows the amount of omega 3 and omega 6 in some commonly used oils. Linseed and canola oil contains the highest omega 3 fatty acid content of the natural vegetable oils.

Ingredient Name Omega 3 (%) Omega 6 (%)
Linseed (Flax) Oil 57 13.9
Cod Liver Oil 25 2
Canola Oil 10 20
Soybean Oil 7 52
 Corn Oil  1  55
 Olive Oil  1  11
 Rice Bran Oil  1  39
 Sunflower Oil  0.3  60
 Coconut Oil  0.1  2


Palatability:
Some linseed oils and fish oil including cod liver oil are notoriously unpalatable for horses, so while these oils are useful for providing omega 3 fatty acids, they can’t be fed in large amounts as most horses simply won’t eat them.

Processing Method: Oil is extracted from oilseeds in two main ways; cold pressing where oil is squeezed out of seeds, often in a water cooled environment to keep the oil at less than 60C; and solvent extraction where a solvent like hexane is added to extract oil from seeds. The oil is then heated to remove the hexane. Cold pressed oils tend to be higher in quality as more of their essential fatty acids and natural antioxidants are left intact in comparison to solvent extracted oils.

It takes time

Horses need time to adapt to digesting and metabolising oils. Oils should always be introduced into a diet slowly, starting with ¼ cup of oil per day and increasing this by ¼ cup every 5 days until you reach the full amount you want to feed. Introducing oil into a diet too quickly can result in soft manure and reduced fibre fermentation in the hindgut.
It will take a minimum of 3 weeks before a horse starts to really benefit from the oil in its diet and it could take up to 3 months before the full benefits of oil are realised.

How much can you feed?

Horses can be fed up to 20% of their total energy intake as oil, which in real terms means just over 3 cups of oil per day for a 500 kg horse in full work. While this level of oil is useful for horses that tie up, very few horses are fed this much oil per day. Feeding between 1 and 2 cups of oil per day is enough to give horses the benefits discussed above without making diets messy, unpalatable or unnecessarily expensive.

Good Stuff

Oils are ‘good stuff’ for working horses. They reduce reliance on grains, make the amount of feed a horse needs to eat smaller, keep horses cooler, allow horses to conserve muscle fuel for sprinting, give horses that tie up a safer and more effective source of energy and provide essential fatty acids in the diet.

For the best results, introduce oils slowly into the diet and select oils based on the following: their omega fatty acid content with oils containing some omega 3 fatty acids preferred; palatability, be aware that some oils including linseed and fish oils can be unpalatable; and method of processing, with cold pressed oils preferred over solvent extracted oils.

 

Meet The Author: Dr Nerida Richards


Dr Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

Does Your Horse Need Electrolytes?

As a horse exercises its muscles generate heat. To prevent its body from dangerously overheating, the horse sweats to allow evaporative cooling to dissipate the heat being produced. As a horse sweats, water and electrolytes, including sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium are lost from the body.

For effective sweating to occur, the horse must be well hydrated and have an ample supply of electrolytes in its body. The electrolytes and water lost through sweating must be replaced following exercise to prevent electrolyte depletion and dehydration. This newsletter will look at what electrolytes are and why they are important, how much ‘electrolyte’ a horse needs, where horses get electrolytes from in the diet and when to use an electrolyte supplement.

What are electrolytes?

Very simply, electrolytes are minerals, which, when present in a watery solution like body fluids, become positively or negatively charged particles that have the ability to conduct electricity. Electrolytes maintain fluid balance and circulatory function, facilitate muscle contractions, trigger nerve functions and maintain the body’s acid-base balance. The most important electrolyte minerals are sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

What happens if a horse becomes electrolyte deficient?

Electrolyte deficiencies are associated with fatigue, muscle weakness, lethargy and reduced feed and water intakes, resulting in weight loss and dehydration. In addition, electrolyte deficient horses may experience reduced sweating, which can result in hyperthermia (over-heating) and compromised performance. Studies in England have also linked electrolyte deficiencies to the incidence of recurring bouts of tying-up (Harris et al. 1992).

Please Note: severe electrolyte deficiency can result in complete exhaustion, colic, synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (commonly known as the ‘thumps’), collapse and death if not treated. Severe electrolyte deficiencies are a veterinary emergency requiring IV fluids, electrolytes and specialist care so please call your vet immediately if you suspect your horse is acutely dehydrated and electrolyte deficient.

How much ‘electrolyte’ does a horse need?

All horses have a small daily requirement for electrolytes to replace the obligatory losses from the body in the urine and faeces. This requirement is termed a horse’s ‘maintenance requirement’ and is reflected in FeedXL’s recommended daily intakes for horses not in work.

Sweating increases a horse’s requirement for electrolytes above their maintenance requirement, as large quantities of sodium, potassium and chloride and smaller quantities of magnesium and calcium are excreted in sweat (amounts are given in the table below):

Electrolyte Sodium Potassium Chloride Magnesium Calcium
Quantity in sweat* (grams/L) 3.1 1.6 5.5 0.05 0.12

The amount a horse sweats, and therefore its electrolyte requirement, will be determined by the amount of work it is doing, the intensity of work it is performing and the climatic conditions in which the horse lives and works. Individual horses also vary considerably in their tendency to sweat. As an indication, in a moderate climate, a racing thoroughbred will lose between 5 and 10 litres of sweat during a daily workout and an endurance horse will excrete between 5 and 10 litres of sweat per hour when travelling between 12 and 18 km/hour. Sweat losses of up to 15 litres/hour can occur during high intensity exercise where horses are travelling at between 30 – 35 km/hour.

FeedXL calculates your horse’s electrolyte requirements for you based on a sweat loss of 1.6 L per day for horses in light work, 4.4 L per day for horses in moderate work, 6.7 L per day for horses in moderately heavy work and 8.9 L per day for horses in heavy work.

How does climate affect requirements?

Hot and particularly hot and humid climates increase a horse’s need for electrolytes as horses will sweat more under these conditions. As a general guide, if the temperature is 30C (86F) supply 140% of your horse’s recommended daily intake (RDI) calculated by FeedXL for sodium, potassium and chloride . If the temperature is 35C (95F), supply 170% of your horse’s calculated requirement for these minerals and if the temperature is 40C (104F) or over you should supply 200% of their requirements. Also be sure to have a salt lick available at all times.

Where do electrolytes come from?

Pastures and forages are almost always a rich source of potassium and are commonly a good source of magnesium. However they tend to contain variable and often unknown concentrations of chloride and typically low concentrations of sodium. Common table salt contains 39% sodium and 61% chloride and is frequently used as a readily available, palatable and cheap source of these electrolytes in a horse’s diet. Potassium chloride (50% potassium, 47% chloride) can be used to supply additional potassium and chloride where required and magnesium oxide is a readily available and cost effective source of magnesium where additional magnesium is needed. Grains contain only very small amounts of all the electrolyte minerals and it is high grain diets that are most commonly ‘electrolyte deficient’.

When should you feed an electrolyte supplement?

In many situations horses can get enough electrolyte minerals from a forage based diet that has plain table salt added for additional sodium and chloride. Some horses on high grain/low forage diets may benefit from an electrolyte supplement that contains potassium or need potassium chloride added to their feeds. On a day to day basis though, most horses won’t need a commercial electrolyte supplement.

Commercial electrolyte supplements are however very handy in situations where your horse is away from home, not grazing or eating as much hay as he normally would and/or working a lot harder or longer and sweating more than usual. Well formulated supplements (ones that contain the same proportion of electrolytes as those found in equine sweat) can be used in these situations to quickly replace electrolytes lost in sweat. Where prolonged exercise occurs (for example endurance riding or long days of stockwork or trail riding) it may be necessary to provide some electrolytes during the period of exercise.

Well formulated electrolyte supplements will provide enough electrolyte minerals in a 60 gram dose to replace the salts lost in 5 litres of sweat. There is debate over how much electrolyte replacer you should give to working horses with no firm recommendations available given it does depend so much on the climate, intensity of work and the horse as an individual. If a horse is sweating consistently over a long period of time AND will have access to water frequently you can give 60 grams of electrolyte every hour to two hours. If water is not available on a frequent basis give 60 grams of electrolyte when you know the horse will have access to water and can have a good drink. Don’t give more than 60 grams per dose as you may overload the horses ability to absorb the salts you give.

Well formulated electrolyte supplements will contain 20 – 25% sodium, 43 – 48% chloride, 10 – 12% potassium and smaller amounts of magnesium and calcium (normally 1 to 2%). These higher quality products will also have less than 20% glucose or other base or filler.

Some practical tips for using electrolyte supplements

  1. Always make sure your horse has access to water after being given electrolytes as they will get thirsty and need to be able to drink. Failure to provide water will result in dehydration because the salts will pull water out of the body and into the gut.
  2. If it is possible, wait for your horse to have a drink of water before giving it electrolytes.
  3. Never give electrolytes to an already dehydrated horse that isn’t drinking as you will worsen the dehydration. Call your vet in these situations.
  4. Don’t add electrolyte supplements to a fussy horse’s feed as chances are it won’t eat them. Instead mix the electrolyte with apple sauce and give it over the tongue (beware they will spit it all over you!).
  5. During endurance rides where feed intake is also important, allow your horse to eat before giving him electrolytes as a paste as it will often stop a horse from eating for a little while which may affect your gut noise scores.
  6. Always have a salt lick available to allow your horse access to extra sodium and chloride at any time.
  7. If you want to use an electrolyte to help make your horse drink when away from home try it out at home to see if it works – if you dose your horse with electrolytes and he doesn’t drink he will actually end up more dehydrated than when you started.
  8. To increase water intake, offer slightly salty water to your horse as its first drink after exercise. Research has shown (Schott et al 2003) that horses who drink slightly salty water (0.9% salt, 90 grams of salt per 10 litres of water) initially will drink more water and rehydrate themselves faster after exercise than horse who drink plain water as their first drink. You will likely need to train your horses to drink the salty water, a touch of molasses might help.

 

Meet The Author: Dr Nerida Richards


Dr Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

The Importance of Fibre for Horses

Several different forms of carbohydrates form what we call ‘fibre’. These carbohydrates include cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Fibre cannot be digested in a horse’s small intestine. Instead, the horse relies on the billions of bacteria that live in the hindgut to digest the fibre by fermentation. Fibre, which is also called ‘structural carbohydrate’, is essentially provided by the pasture, hay, chaff, haylage and high fibre feeds like sugarbeet and legume hulls in your horse’s diet. Fibre is the single most important component of a horse’s diet (after water) as without it, their digestive tract can’t function as it should. So why is it so important and what will happen if your horse doesn’t get enough?

Why do horses need fibre?

Fibre plays 3 very important roles in the diet of horses. These are:

  1. Fibre provides a source of energy/calories for horses. While the horse itself cannot ‘digest’ the carbohydrates that form fibre (because like humans they don’t have the necessary digestive enzymes to break it down in the small intestine), the horse houses billions of bacteria in its hindgut that do the job of digesting fibre for it. So, the horse provides the bacteria somewhere safe and warm to live and in return the bacteria pass on to the horse most of the energy contained in the fibre.
    As well as providing the horse with energy, important vitamins like vitamin B1, biotin and vitamin K are produced during the bacterial fermentation of fibre in the hindgut.
  2. Fibre provides the horse with ‘gut fill’. The horse’s gastrointestinal tract is an ENORMOUS organ and it needs to be kept full. The fibre in a horse’s diet is what provides the bulk to keep the gut full and healthy.
  3. Fibre soaks up and holds water in the gut to act as a water reserve when horses need it.

What happens if a horse doesn’t get enough fibre?

Diets that don’t provide a horse with enough fibre can cause major problems including:

  1. Colic – if a horse’s gastrointestinal tract is not kept full it is prone to twisting about and moving in ways that it can’t normally when it is full of fibre. Unfortunately for the horse this can lead to serious colic that can only be resolved (if the horse is lucky) by surgery.
  2. Diarrhoea – low fibre diets very often result in loose sloppy manure, which in-turn affects the whole dynamic of how the gut works. Horses with diarrhoea digest what fibre they do get less efficiently and they are prone to problems with dehydration and electrolyte deficiency.
  3. Dehydration – horses on a low fibre diet don’t have a readily available water reserve in their gut, meaning if they sweat heavily or spend an extended period of time away from water they are more prone to dehydration than a horse on a high fibre diet. Problems with diarrhoea as discussed above make this issue worse.
  4. Energy deficiency – horses that aren’t being fed enough fibre are also most likely not being fed enough energy (calories) so they may be losing weight or having difficulty gaining weight. The energy value of fibre is often underestimated, with forages like oaten hay or chaff often being viewed simply as a ‘filler’ when in fact they are a valuable source of energy for horses.
  5. Vitamin Deficiency – the bacteria that ferment fibre in the hindgut also produce several vitamins including vitamin B1, biotin and vitamin K for horses. If horses aren’t fed enough fibre the bacteria are unable to produce the amount of vitamins they normally would and a deficiency may result leading to problems like loss of appetite and poor quality hoof growth.
  6. Boredom – horses on low fibre diets will often have a lot of spare time to fill in during the day that ordinarily they would be spending eating. This boredom will often lead to problems like cribbing, weaving and chewing on strange objects or eating dirt.
  7. Gastric ulcers – the horse’s stomach is constantly releasing gastric acid and the horse relies on eating fibrous feeds to help prevent gastric ulcers. Chewing high fibre feeds like pasture or hay generates a lot of saliva which acts to buffer the gastric acid. Fibre also provides a raft in the stomach that helps to stop acid from the lower portions of the stomach from splashing up and damaging the unprotected upper portions of the stomach. Low fibre diets can’t provide this protection for horses.
  8. Constant hunger – because fibre is the part of the diet that provides the ‘gut fill’ a diet low in fibre will leave a horse always feeling hungry, which then causes its own set of problems including behavioural issues and even sand colic (see below).
  9. Sand colic – when horses are fed low fibre diets it increases the chance that sand and dirt will accumulate in their hindgut and cause colic or diarrhoea. Feeding large amounts of forage is one of the most effective ways to remove sand and dirt from the hindgut. The increased risk of sand colic in horses on low fibre diets is also partly also related to the fact that horses on low fibre diets are often hungry and if housed on dirt or sand will be going around vacuuming everything off the ground, and picking up large amounts of dirt and sand in the process.

What types of feed are high in fibre?

As you can see fibre is absolutely essential in a horse’s diet. Feeds that contain a lot of fibre include:

  • All types of hay and chaff
  • Most pastures (very lush green pastures are quite low in fibre)
  • Haylage
  • Sugarbeet pulp
  • Legume hulls including soybean and lupin hulls
  • Copra meal
  • Seed hulls including oat and sunflower seed hulls

How much fibre does a horse need per day?

Recent recommendations are that horses should be fed a minimum of 1.5% of their bodyweight per day in forage (pasture, hay, chaff, haylage; Harris et al. 2017). This is equivalent to 1.5 kg/100 kg bodyweight or 1.5 lb per 100 lb bodyweight (which equals 7.5 kg/day for a 500 kg horse; 16.5 lb/day for an 1100 lb horse). Essentially though the more fibre you can feed in your horse’s diet the better. Use FeedXL to see if you can meet your horse’s energy requirements with high fibre feeds alone (focussing mainly on pasture and hay) and then just top up whatever vitamins and minerals are missing using a vitamin and mineral supplement.

It isn’t always possible to feed like this however and horses that are working hard need higher energy feeds like oils and cereal grains in their diet. Even for these horses it is still critically important that they are fed 1% of their bodyweight in high fibre forage.

Any of the feeds listed above can be used to provide ‘fibre’ in a horse’s diet. A second good rule of thumb to follow is to provide at least half of the fibre in your horse’s diet as long stem fibre in the form of hay or pasture. The long stem fibre takes the horse longer to eat (so keeps them happier) and also makes them chew more, which encourages more saliva production, which is important for gut health too. These long stem fibres also contain what is known as effective fibre, which is fibre that remains undigested as it passes through the gut. Effective fibre is important for allowing the horse to produce manure and shift unwanted material like sand out of the hindgut.

What other nutrients do forages provide?

High fibre forages (like pasture, hay, chaff and haylage) are a valuable source of protein. In fact for many horses these forage are more than capable of meeting 100% of their energy and protein requirements – FeedXL will show you if this is the case for your horse. Forages are particularly rich in the electrolyte mineral potassium (and sometimes contain too much of this minerals, read our FeedXL Newsletter ‘Is Pasture Affecting your Horse’s Behaviour’) and also contain good amounts of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium and varying amounts of other trace minerals (we recommend having your forages tested so you know exactly what your forage is providing your horse, then you can use FeedXL to just add what is needed). Fresh green forages are also particularly rich in vitamin A, E and K and the B-group vitamins and they are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.

The final straw

Horses evolved eating a high fibre diet and fibre is still the single most important component in your horse’s diet aside from water. If your horse isn’t getting enough fibre it can be facing serious consequences including colic, dehydration, diarrhoea, ulcers, vitamin deficiency, weight loss and behavioural problems. So be sure to feed enough, it will keep your horses much healthier and far more content.

 

Meet The Author: Dr Nerida Richards


Dr Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

Protein: Can You Feed Too Much?

Protein is a very important component of all horse diets and as discussed in our post ‘Understanding Protein Quality’, the quality of protein used in diets will largely determine how well that diet can support functions that rely on protein including growth, reproduction, athletic performance and muscle building.

But can we get carried away with protein in a horse’s diet? Can too much protein be fed? And are the very high protein pastures that are so common nowadays a problem for horses? The answer to those questions is ‘yes and no’, it all depends on the circumstances your horse find itself in. Let’s look in more detail at when high protein diets may be a problem.

Protein is expensive!

When protein is fed in excess of protein requirements the horse will simply chop the protein up, remove the nitrogen and use what is left as a source of energy, so it isn’t completely wasted. BUT feeding protein as a source of energy is sort of like using notes of money instead of old newspaper to get a fire started. It will do the job, but it is an expensive way to do it. So when formulating a diet, use FeedXL to keep protein intake as close to requirements as is practically possible.

Wet and smelly bedding

Horses on high protein diets will, as discussed above just chop the protein up and burn it essentially like a carbohydrate. But they then need to get rid of the nitrogen they didn’t need from the protein. To do this, nitrogen is turned into urea and excreted in the urine. Getting rid of waste nitrogen requires a lot of water so horses on high protein diets tend to drink AND urinate a lot. Now, this isn’t a problem if your horse has ready access to water and lives outside. But for horses in stables, feeding too much protein is going to mean a whole lot of extra wet bedding for you to muck out every day, which is time consuming and can be expensive depending on what you pay for bedding.

Perhaps a bigger issue for stabled horses on high protein diets is the strong smell of ammonia that develops as the excreted urea is converted to ammonia in the bedding. Ammonia can irritate airways and cause respiratory issues, especially in poorly ventilated stable areas, so meeting but not unnecessarily exceeding protein intakes is particularly important for horses confined to stables for long periods of time.

Heat production

The digestion and metabolism of protein generates more heat than the digestion and metabolism of fat and carbohydrate. So a horse on a high protein diet that is burning a lot of protein as a source of energy will need to get rid of more body heat and in doing this will sweat more. This increased rate of sweating, together with the extra urine production needed to remove the waste urea from the horse’s body combine to increase a horse’s water requirement.

If the horse in question is only in light work, has free access to water and doesn’t live in a hot climate, the high protein diet really won’t pose an issue. However, if a horse is in moderate to heavy work, and particularly if that work is endurance type work or the horse lives in a hot climate the excess heat production from the high protein diet could lead to problems with dehydration and heat stress. Connysson et al (2006) observed that protein intakes of 160% of requirements did disrupt fluid balance (by increasing water loss through sweating and urination) so keeping working horse protein intakes below this level may assist with maintaining good levels of hydration. These researchers observe no negative impact of this level of protein on performance in the horses studied.

Hyperactivity

Protein is sometimes blamed for making horses ‘hot’ and some horse owners will actively select low protein feeds in an effort to keep their horses calm. This however is mostly a wives tale. Diets that are higher in energy than a horse’s true energy needs can and often will make a horse hyperactive. If you are feeding a very high protein diet, chances are this diet is also going to be a high energy diet … AND all the horse is going to do with the extra protein it is being fed is cut it up and burn it for energy. So it isn’t the protein, as such, causing problems with behaviour, but instead the amount of energy in the diet.

What about the liver and kidneys?

High protein diets have also long been blamed for damaging liver and kidney function. There is no evidence (that I can find) to suggest that healthy horses with a fully functioning liver and kidneys suffer any kind of harm to these organs on a high protein diet. However if a horse has a pre-existing problem with either its liver or kidneys a low protein diet that meets but does not exceed protein requirements is recommended.

Managing protein intakes on high protein pastures

Most of the time when protein intake is indicated as being excessive in FeedXL it will be due to a very high protein pasture playing a prominent role in the diet. This may not be a problem if your horse is healthy, living in a temperate or cool environment, living outdoors and in light work, breeding, growing or not doing anything at all. However, if your horse is stabled for periods of time, living in a hot climate or is in moderate to heavy work it would be advisable to try and reduce protein intakes by reducing pasture intake. This is often best done by keeping the horse off pasture for a period of time during the day or night and providing a lower protein grass hay. The use of lucerne/alfalfa hay should also be minimised or stopped altogether when horses are grazing high protein pastures.

Use high quality protein

When feeding protein a major consideration is whether that protein is meeting your horse’s requirement for essential amino acids. Using the best quality protein you have available will allow you to meet lysine (and other essential amino acid) requirements without having to feed excessive amounts of crude protein. Using low quality protein will mean you have to feed more crude protein to meet essential amino acid requirements and the higher level of crude protein may interfere with your horse’s hydration, heat load and air quality as discussed above.

Take Home Message

If your horse:

  • lives in a hot climate
  • is stabled all or part of the time
  • is in moderate to heavy work; and/or
  • has a pre-existing liver or kidney disease

You should keep protein intakes within the acceptable limits for protein set by FeedXL (and in the case of liver or kidney disease keep intakes as close to 100% of requirements as possible) to avoid the issues discussed above.

However, if your horse is:

  • healthy
  • living in a temperate or cool environment
  • living outdoors; and
  • in light work, breeding, growing or not doing anything at all

Excess protein in the diet will simply be chopped up and used for energy. However you should still avoid feeding more protein than you need to because it is expensive and doesn’t provide any benefit to your horse.

 

Meet The Author: Dr Nerida Richards


Dr Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

Magnesium for Horses: Which Form is Best?

With so much focus on magnesium in equine diets, you may be wondering what’s the best form of magnesium for horses.

There are many ‘forms’ of magnesium available and suitable to be fed as magnesium supplements. Unfortunately, at the moment there aren’t any extensive studies that look at the comparative bioavailability of these various forms of magnesium in horses.

To help us understand which forms of magnesium are best for horses, let’s first look at where and how magnesium is absorbed.

How is magnesium absorbed?

In the horse, magnesium is absorbed from the small intestine (Hintz et al 1972), with the second half of the small intestine being slightly more effective at absorbing magnesium than the first half. It is thought that very little magnesium is absorbed from the hindgut in the horse. Small intestinal absorption of magnesium is similar to that seen in humans, rats and rabbits.

Magnesium can be absorbed a few different ways. It is thought the major process via which magnesium is absorbed is simply via passive diffusion. This is a process where magnesium simply moves from an area of high concentration to an area of lower concentration, so in the case of intestinal absorption, when the concentration of magnesium in the gut is higher than in the intestinal cells the magnesium will move across membranes to enter the body. The concentration of magnesium drives absorption in this situation so the more magnesium present in the gut, the higher the concentration and therefore the more that will be absorbed.

Solvent drag, where magnesium dissolved in water in the gut is transported into the body as water is absorbed is a second route of magnesium absorption while active transport where magnesium is transported via some sort of magnesium pump that requires energy to operate and physically drag magnesium from the gut into the body is the third mechanism demonstrated in magnesium absorption. Which of these routes of absorption play the most important role in magnesium transport in horses is unknown.

What form of magnesium is easiest for horses to absorb?

It is difficult to compare the bioavailability of various forms of magnesium between studies because different experimental methods and forms or qualities of magnesium supplements are used. A relatively recent study (2005) published in the journal ‘Magnesium Research’ reported the magnesium bioavailability from 4 inorganic and 6 organic mineral salts of magnesium in rats. This was the most comprehensive study I was able to find that studied bioavailability across a broad number of forms of magnesium in a monogastric animal (albeit, a rat).

What did they find?

The results are interesting with 2 very clear points made by the authors (Coudray et al) being:

  • There were no ‘major differences’ in the intestinal magnesium absorption between the 10 forms of magnesium studied.
  • All ten salts, whether they were organic or inorganic were equally efficient in restoring blood magnesium levels in plasma and red blood cells in rats.

They did however report that magnesium gluconate had the highest magnesium absorption and retention rate of all the products studied. Magnesium sulphate (commonly known as Epsom salts) and magnesium carbonate had both the lowest absorption and retention rates and this was confirmed by the fact these two supplement forms also had the highest faecal magnesium excretions.

Their results are summarised in the table below (Coudray et al 2005).

% Mg Absorption* % Mg Retention*
Magnesium Gluconate 57 36
Magnesium Citrate 50 34
Magnesium Chloride 49 35
Magnesium Oxide 48 34
Magnesium Pidolate  48  32
Magnesium Lactate  48  27
Magnesium Acetate  47  30
 Magnesium Aspartate  47  26
Magnesium Carbonate  44  22
Magnesium Sulphate  35  19

What does this tell us?

While this is only one study, it does serve to demonstrate, as the authors have noted, that all of these forms of magnesium are suitable and capable of restoring magnesium levels in magnesium deficient animals. It also means that blanket statements like ‘organic magnesium is more bioavailable than inorganic magnesium’ are not supported by this research as while 2 forms of organic magnesium were the most bioavailable, magnesium chloride and magnesium oxide were the 3rd and 4th most bioavailable according to this study.

Factors to consider before you choose a form of magnesium for your horse

Looking at these results only it would seem that magnesium gluconate or magnesium citrate would be the best forms of magnesium to use while magnesium chloride appears to be the most useful inorganic source of magnesium. However, there are the following factors you should consider:

  • How much magnesium is in the product – all of these various forms of magnesium contain different amounts of magnesium and therefore you would need to feed different amounts to achieve the required daily intake of magnesium. If for example you wanted to feed enough of one of these ingredients to add an additional 10 g/day of magnesium to a diet you would need to feed from as little as 17 grams of magnesium oxide to a huge 186 grams of magnesium gluconate (see the table below). Feeding the products like magnesium gluconate that contain only very small amounts of magnesium quickly becomes unpractical and will become expensive.
Form of magnesium % Magnesium Amount required to feed 10 g of Magnesium/day
Magnesium Gluconate 5.39 186
Magnesium Citrate 16.2 62
Magnesium Chloride 11.98 83
Magnesium Oxide 60.3 17
Magnesium Pidolate  8.6  116
Magnesium Lactate  10  100
Magnesium Acetate  11.3  88
 Magnesium Aspartate  7.49  134
Magnesium Carbonate  26.23  38
Magnesium Sulphate  9.9  101
  • Palatability – some sources of magnesium like magnesium chloride are notoriously unpalatable, so despite being a good source of magnesium from a bioavailability perspective, if you can’t get your horse to eat it, it isn’t going to help much. Magnesium sulphate is also well known as an unpalatable source of magnesium.
  • Cost – typically organic minerals are more expensive than inorganic minerals, so even though they might be slightly more bioavailable, they will be more expensive, even if their superior bioavailability is accounted for. For example, magnesium citrate is approximately $40/kg. To feed 5 grams per day of magnesium that is absorbed you would need to feed 62 grams of this supplement per day (based on the 50% bioavailability observed in rats). This would cost $2.48/day. Compare this to magnesium oxide at $10/kg. To feed 5 g/day of magnesium that is absorbed you would need to feed 35 grams per day which would cost 35 cents per day. So even though magnesium oxide is less bioavailable on a percent of magnesium absorbed basis, it costs less to feed the same amount of theoretically bioavailable magnesium.
  • Physical availability – some of these more obscure forms of magnesium are difficult to source, so even if they appear to be a good option for supplementation if you can’t access and purchase it easily, practically it isn’t going to work for you.

It is easy to get caught up in the bioavailability of minerals and to lose sight of the bigger picture. Always remember when assessing a mineral source to look at bioavailability together with these factors discussed above.

Magnesium Oxide

In taking all of these factors into account, magnesium oxide, which has been used as a magnesium supplement for humans and animals for decades is showing itself as an attractive option. Magnesium oxide is easy to source, cheap to buy, contains a lot of magnesium per kilogram, so you don’t need to feed a lot to achieve the level of magnesium you want in the diet and it appears to be readily absorbed in the small intestine.

However, you do need to be careful with the type of magnesium oxide you buy and use. Magnesium oxide is made via a process of calcination where a source of magnesium like magnesite or magnesium carbonate is burned at very high temperatures to produce magnesium oxide. The way the magnesium is calcined and its final particle size affect bioavailability, with product calcined at less than 800C or with a large particle size being less bioavailable. While selecting fine particle size product is relatively simple because you can see particle size to a large degree (ie fine powders versus granular forms), it is going to be difficult to know in some cases how well the product was calcined. My best suggestion is to purchase magnesium oxide from known manufacturers that produce magnesium oxide specifically for use in animal rations. ‘Causmag’ is an example of a company that does this.

Take home message

There is actually very little known about the bioavailability of magnesium in horses. Data in rats shows us that both organic and inorganic minerals are bioavailable and that both forms are capable of restoring blood magnesium levels in magnesium-deficient animals.

However, when you take into account the amount of each supplement you would need to feed to achieve the required daily magnesium dose, the cost of the different forms of magnesium, palatability and availability factors, magnesium oxide appears to be the most practical and cost-effective magnesium supplement available for use in horse rations.

When selecting magnesium oxide for your horses, use products from reputable companies known for producing magnesium oxide for use in animal rations and select the finest particle size product you can get.

 

Meet The Author: Dr Nerida Richards


Dr Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

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