What are Essential Amino Acids in Protein, and Why Do They Matter?

Nutrition articles frequently refer to protein quality and essential amino acids. When we use the term crude protein, we are essentially talking about a calculation based on measured nitrogen. Protein is about 16% nitrogen by weight, so if we measure the amount of nitrogen and multiply it by 6.25, this gives us a measurement of crude protein. It does not tell us anything about the quality of the protein. If you tested pure nitrogen this way, it would be 625% protein!

Digestible protein is that amount of the protein that is actually digested by the animal. In an over simplified example, if you fed 100 grams of protein and measured 50 grams in the feces, the protein would be 50% digestible.

What is really important to simple stomached animals (horses included) is the content of essential amino acids in the protein. We commonly talk about 10 essential amino acids (EAA), the amino acids that must be in the diet as the animal cannot synthesize them. These are:

  • Phenylalanine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Isoleucine
  • Methionine
  • Histidine
  • Arginine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

A common memory aid in many nutrition texts books is to use the first letters of these 10 as PVT TIM HALL. (All of you who had a non-ruminant nutrition course still remember this acronym!)

The other 12 amino acids can generally be synthesized in the body and do not need to be in the diet, although there must be a supply of appropriate substrate to produce them. Animal nutrition text books cover this topic in excellent detail.

Limiting Amino Acids
Limiting Amino Acids

When we talk about limiting amino acids, these are the essential amino acids most likely to be restricting the use of the total amount of amino acids present. In most species, lysine is the first limiting amino acid, with methionine and threonine close behind. We commonly talk about amino acids as the building blocks of protein. If you are once you run out of an essential amino acid, you cannot build any more animal protein and the rest of the amino acids are used inefficiently for energy.

If you have a horse on a diet that is calculated to have adequate “crude protein”, but essential amino acids are not present, the horse simply cannot use the protein to build and maintain muscle, hair, hoof and skin and you will see changes in the appearance of the horse, such as loss of muscle mass, rough hair, scaly hoof surface.

Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

hand feeding red sizeThere are some common questions come up when we talk about what happens to horses as they age and why their bodies change shape:

  • Does my good old horse need more calories (energy) or more protein?
  • He is out on good pasture and is holding his weight, but his hair coat looks dull and he has lost muscle mass.
  • She looks a little thin, should I add some fat/oil to her diet?

These are all apparently simple questions, but actually we need to look at the nutrient supply and purpose a little closer.

Calories from fat/oil, digestible fiber (structural carbohydrates and starch & sugar (non-structural carbohydrates) are the key energy sources for horses. If a horse is thin, that tells us that the horse needs more Calories to maintain fat cover measured by Body Condition Score system. Those Calories can be added from extra fat/oil, extra digestible fiber or additional starch and sugar. Vegetable oil contains 2.25 x the Calories per pound of carbohydrates and is a safe way to add Calories. Switching to a highly digestible fiber source (better quality forage, added beet pulp etc.) can also add Calories of digestible energy (DE). It takes 2-3+ pounds of added feed to add 1 pound of gain, depending on the feed.

Adding Calories alone will not bring back the muscle mass. This will require added protein (really added essential amino acids, particularly lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids). If a horse is getting adequate crude protein, but the protein is of limited quality and is low in one or more essential amino acids, the horse will not be able to utilize it fully to maintain or restore muscle mass. This is why it is essential to know the quality of the protein in feeds, particularly these first 3 limiting amino acids.

A common situation is an old horse retired to a grass pasture. It may be difficult for the horse to consume enough to maintain body condition, thus the horse loses weight. The grass pasture may also be low in crude protein and certainly low in essential amino acids, so the horse also loses muscle mass. Tough combination for an old friend!

The good news is that this can be reversed with the use of a well-designed senior horse feed providing both Calories and essential amino acids!

Selenium Levels for Horses

Selenium Levels for HorsesAs a horse owner, you may have heard about selenium levels and that you need to be concerned with them.  But why?

Technical reason: selenium is a key trace mineral in equine diets because it is a major component of glutathione peroxidase, which is an anti-oxidant enzyme, as well as several other enzymes.

  • Selenium also has an important interaction with Vitamin E.
  • Selenium and Vitamin E together are essential for both anti-oxidant benefits and for reducing the risk of certain muscle problems such as white muscle disease and exertional rhabdomyolysis syndrome.

Why you should care: Because selenium can also be toxic at higher intakes, it is also the only trace minerals regulated by the FDA.  Most of the U.S. is selenium deficient in soils (and thus toxicity is not an issue in those areas), but there are some areas with high selenium in the soil where some plants accumulate unacceptable levels of selenium in forage and may cause chronic toxicity. If you aren’t sure about the levels where you live, ask area horse owners, farmers, or your local extension office.

How much is in the feed?

In the case of selenium, the label guarantee, which is “added” selenium, is listed in ppm = parts per million = milligrams per kilogram. The actual content will be slightly higher as there is naturally occurring selenium in the ingredients. The labeling requirement is based on added selenium per FDA guidelines.

  • Premium horse feeds are commonly tagged at 0.6 ppm selenium, or 0.6 mg/kg of feed.
  • This equals 0.273 mg per pound of feed. (0.6 mg/kg divided by 2.2 kg/lb. = 0.273 mg per pound of feed)
  • Thus, if you feed 5 lbs per day of a 0.6 ppm selenium feed, you are providing 1.365 mg of selenium per day.

FDA requirement limits added selenium in feed to a maximum of 0.3 ppm concentration in total diet. This is why the maximum on complete feeds – feeds that include enough fiber to replace the hay/pasture portion of the diet – is 0.3 ppm.

On feeds which can be fed at a maximum of 50% of the diet (not that horse owners generally feed it that high), the limit is 0.6 ppm added selenium. Chronic selenium toxicity occurs at about 10X the FDA limit, so there is a pretty good safety margin.

How much does a horse actually need?

A horse’s basic daily requirement for selenium is 1-3 mg per day.  Some chronic selenium symptoms might appear above 10-15 mg/head per day.

To figure out what your horse is consuming, have your hay/pasture supply tested, and then add the amount it is consuming from the hay, to the amount it is consuming from any feed & supplements, and you will know if you need to make any adjustments to your horse’s overall diet.  Depending on your area, it may also be useful to consider intake from water sources.

Feeding the Maintenance Horse

Vitamin in half
Feeding below the recommended amount of a particular horse feed, is analogous to only taking half of your daily vitamin.

I am fortunate in my job to speak with horse owners face-to-face on a frequent basis. During these conversations, I enjoy hearing about the horses they own and how great their horse’s look and perform.

Occasionally, I will hear someone mention that their horse looks great on hay alone and they only feed a ‘handful’ of grain in the morning and night, just for the vitamins and minerals.

I delicately point out that the analogous human activity would be chopping your daily vitamin into pieces and taking a fraction of one a day. This is an opportunity to discuss feeding rate, calorie requirements, muscle and hair coat quality, and making sure owners have selected the right feed for their horse.

In many of these instances, the horse in question is an adult in good body condition, on a good quality forage and light work load; in other words, a horse at maintenance activity level.  Even though this horse may be able to keep a good body condition score, without balanced nutrition, they will exhibit less-than-ideal muscling, hair coat and hoof quality.

A well-intentioned owner of this kind of horse might feel they need to provide some form of nutrition supplementation to their hay, as they should, but may not fully understand what is needed or the appropriate quantities. Feed, being as complicated as it can be, is often misinterpreted and either under or over fed. Here’s where we can help!

If a maintenance horse is in good or better-than-good body condition (a 6+) from their hay or pasture alone, they really don’t need more calories in the diet. But they do need something to fill in the gaps that the hay or pasture is not providing. These include vitamins, minerals and quality proteins (amino acids) their body needs for normal tissue repair, hair growth and muscle maintenance.

For this horse, a ration balancer is the ideal solution. A ration balancer (sometimes called diet balancer) is a concentrated form of feed without the energy provided by fats, fibers, starch and sugar of a regular feed. Ration balancers tend to have higher guaranteed levels of nutrients, but significantly lower feeding rates. Don’t panic! A protein level of 30% with a feeding rate of 2 pounds per day means your horse gets 0.6 pounds of protein. Compare that to feeding 6 pounds of a 14% regular feed = 0.84 pounds of protein per day. When you do the math, it’s really in line with a “normal” diet.

If this same horse would be slightly below ideal body condition, a feed designed to be fed to maintenance horses would be appropriate for calories and the balance of other nutrients. Be sure to follow the feeding rates and keep a close eye on how your horse responds to the feed, as you may need to adjust within the feeding rate guidelines.

When it comes to calorie management of the maintenance-level activity horse, remember to watch out for those treats, too. Calorie levels can vary widely so all the work you’re doing to manage intake with the feed scoop can easily be washed away with an indulgence in treats!

Feeding a horse at a maintenance activity level doesn’t have to be complicated. With a few pieces of information and the right feed, your horse can look and feel their best, even if they aren’t heading for the show pen.

Horse Feed Tag Mathematics

It takes some time and math skills to properly understand how the guaranteed analysis relates to what your horse is actually taking in every day!
It takes some time and math skills to properly understand how the guaranteed analysis relates to what your horse is actually taking in every day!

We often receive questions from horse owners, wondering what the various units of measure on horse feed tags mean, and how they can use those units to figure out what their horse is consuming…and wondering why in the world they have to be so confusing, too!

In short, feed companies use the units of measurements on nutrients that we do, because we are required to. Why? Because horse feeds and other livestock feeds are labeled as required by AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) and the various state Feed Control regulations.  These regulatory bodies establish the units which are to be used for each nutrient in tag guarantees.

To break it down, there are 4 common units used on feed tags.  To help you understand them all, here’s a quick overview of how they work, along with examples of how to do the appropriate math:

Protein, amino acids, fat, fiber and macro minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium) are listed as a % minimum or maximum.

  • To calculate the amount supplied per pound, you can convert % to a decimal fraction by moving the decimal point 2 places to the left, then multiply by the pounds fed.
  • As a horse’s daily intake requirements are sometimes given in grams, we can convert those pounds of intake to grams as well.
    • For those of us that are mathematically challenged, a quick Google search of “pounds to grams” will provide a handy conversion calculator!

Example:

  • A feed that is 14% protein would contain 1 lb x 0.14 = 0.14 lb of protein in 1 pound of feed.
    • If you want to measure in ounces, there are 16 ounces per pound, so the same pound of feed would contain 0.14 x 16 = 2.24 ounces of protein.
    • If the requirements are given in grams, we know that there are 453.6 grams per pound, so the feed would contain 453.6 x 0.14 = 63.5 grams of protein per pound of feed.
  • Feeding 5 lbs of this feed per day, results in feeding 0.7 lbs, or 11.2 ounces, or 317.5 grams, of protein per day.

Trace minerals (copper, zinc, manganese and selenium) are expressed as “ppm” or parts per million.

  • One part per million is the same as one milligrams per kilogram.
  • 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds.

Example:

  • Premium horse feeds are commonly tagged at 0.6 ppm selenium.
  • This is 0.6 mg/kg of feed. This equals 0.273 mg per pound of feed.
  • 0.6 mg/kg divided by 2.2 kg/lb. = 0.273 mg per pound of feed
  • Feeding 5 lbs of this feed per day, results in feeding 1.365 mg per day of selenium.

Vitamins A, D and E are expressed in IU/lb.

  • An IU is an International Unit and is based on the effectiveness of a particular vitamin.
  • There are some rather complicated conversions of different Vitamin sources to International Units, which is why animal requirements are given in International Units, so no further conversion is needed.

Example:

  • A feed that lists 100 IU/lb of Vitamin E, fed at 5 lbs per day, provides 500 IU’s per day.

Vitamin C (or Ascorbic acid) and Biotin are normally expressed as mg/lb or milligrams per pound.

  • Usually only tagged on senior horse feeds.
  • Requirements are in mg of intake per day, so no further conversion is needed.

Example:

  • A feed that lists 75 mg/lb of Vitamin C, fed at 5 lbs per day, provides 375 mg per day.

Still confused?  Don’t worry about it. Just leave us your questions in the comments section below, and we’ll be happy to help you out!

5 Things I’ve Learned Working for a Feed Company

I am fortunate to count myself among those who grew up with horses.  My mother had grown up with a horse as her pet (Babe was her name) and much of what I learned came from how she had managed her horse.  This meant that I grew up with a …how to say….‘traditional’ mindset about nutrition; ‘hay and sweet feed now and then is all any horse needs’ and that is what my horse was fed….until I started working for a feed company.  Then, my nutritional education hit the fast lane!  Here are the top 5 things that I have learned about nutrition and management as a result of working for a feed company.

1. The purpose of feed.  Growing up, we’d use feed as bait to bring the horses off the pasture, a reward after a good ride (after properly cooling out of course) or on very cold days, but certainly not every day.  Most feeds are designed to provide a horse with the nutrients that hay or pasture alone cannot.  Many people think of feed as simply providing ‘energy’ which, many of them do.   When it comes to feed, you generally get what you pay for, so very often, the less expensive feeds are designed to provide the minimum amount of nutrition.  That’s why it’s important that you select the right feed for your horse so that they are getting the balance of nutrients that fit their needs, be it energy, biotin or high quality proteins, fed consistently.  Once you find the right nutrition for you horse, you might be amazed at how good they look and how happy they seem.

2. Paying more for feed can save money in the long run.  I used to feed an inexpensive sweet mix to my horse and spent my money on supplements to provide what the feed didn’t, as opposed to feeding her a fully fortified feed.   For the most part, a high quality, fortified feed that is fed at the right amount removes the need for most supplements and, you might be surprised to find it can be cheaper.  There are a few exceptions where it is either illegal or extremely difficult to include specific nutrients in a feed, such as joint support (it is against the law to include any ingredient that is considered a drug in horse feed).   In those instances, it does make sense to add a supplement to provide what the feed can not.

3. Feeding directions do make a difference.  Feeding directions matter because most feeds are formulated to provide a specific concentration of nutrients based on the pounds (not scoops) that are fed, which is a ratio of your horse’s weight.  In order to feed at the recommended levels, you need to know how much your horse weighs and how much your feed weighs.   Growing up, we just fed a ‘scoop’ regardless of the horse or feed.  Taking this approach will often mean under or over feeding your horse. If you start to feed at the recommended feeding levels and notice your horse not being in ideal body condition, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate whether you’re feeding the right feed.

4. Those extras actually do count for something.  I used to think that some of the extra ‘stuff’ that was provided in a fully fortified feed was just foo-foo dust or tag dressing. One of my biggest ‘ah ha’ moments came when I realized that (at least with Nutrena feeds) it’s not just adding another line to the guaranteed nutrients tag; it’s really providing a benefit to the horse.  I saw it when I switched my horses away from a local mill sweet mix.  The little things that are added do make a visible improvement in hoof quality, hair coat and even muscling.

5. Knowing your horse is the best way to feed him.  Horses are individuals; as a rider, that is evident.  However, I used to think that when it came to nutrition, there was very little variation.  How wrong I was!  Unlike production animals, humans have been selectively breeding horses for attributes other than feed efficiency.  Therefore, the general horse population has a wide range of nutrition needs from the easy keeper to the hard keeper and everything in between.  Staying closely tuned into your horse, changes in his performance, attitude and body condition score throughout the year and how he reacts to his feed and forage is all part of managing him as an individual.  When his job changes (increase or decrease in workload) or he reaches the next life stage, it’s important to reevaluate his feeding program to provide him what he needs.

I have learned so much about nutrition and management during my time as an employee of a feed company.  My assumptions have been challenged.  My knowledge expanded.  Thanks to scientific research, my horses now enjoy an improved level of nutrition, performance and appearance, and so can yours!

Feeding Oats to Horses – The Whole Picture

For decades, oats have been a staple in the feeding program of horses. Often considered a ‘safe’ grain option, there are pros and cons to this long-loved feed option. Upon closer examination, the nutrient profile of oats may surprise you. Read on and see the whole picture of oats.

Variability  – Oats are grown in many parts of the United States, Europe and Canada.  Depending on the genetic variety, growing conditions, soil type, management and harvest conditions, the nutrient content and quality of oats can vary widely.   Take for example the starch content which can range from 32% all the way up to 43%!  Variability of nutritional content can be high in oats.

Balance – Calcium and phosphorus work together to build strong bones and muscles, but they need to be in a balanced ratio to be absorbed and to work effectively.  For a horse, a ratio of 1:1 (calcium to phosphorus) is the minimum, but can range up to 6:1 and still be effective and healthy.  Generally speaking, oats have inverse calcium: phosphorus ratio and on average run 0.06% calcium to 0.45% phosphorus.

Starch level – The ‘low starch’ movement of the past decade has redefined what “low” is.  Low, being a relative term, historically may have meant anything below corn, which runs on average 65% starch.  So what is the starch level of oats?  The level of starch in oats can range from 32% up to 43%, however, the digestibility of the starch found in oats tends to be higher than in other cereal grains.  To put this into persecptive, take into consideration that ‘low’ starch feeds today run around 11-14%, and even oats are starting to look high!

Amino Acid Deficiancy – The building blocks of protein, amino acids such as lysine, methionine or threonine are required to effectively build and maintain muscle.  Though present in oats, the variability of levels is high and there are no guaranteed or consistent levels.

Digestibility – Processing oats by de-hulling, crimping, rolling, or crushing can provide a marginal increase in the digestibility of nutrients.  How much it increases, is actually minimal.  Consider this: next time you are cleaning out stalls, take a look at a pile of your horse’s manure.  See any oats in there?  Those have made it through the digestive tract without providing nutrition to your horse.

As you can see, oats are highly variable and nutritionally unbalanced in many areas important to horses.  Feeding your horse oats without balancing the diet could easily result in nutritional deficiencies.   If you feel strongly about feeding oats to your horse, it’s worth considering a commercial grain made with oats.

Alternatively, certain supplements are made to compliment oats and fill the nutrient  gaps for your horse.  This way, you can feel good about feeding your horse oats, and your horse will feel good with balanced nutrition.

What Makes it ‘Premium’ Nutrition?

Aside from price, how do you know if a feed that is advertised as premium nutrition, really is? Here are some tips to help you decode the premium puzzle.

First, a word about forage….Forage, being hay and/or pasture, should make up the majority of your horse’s diet.  Therefore, the amount of effort and investment you make in your feeding program should be heavily weighted toward offering your horse the best quality forage you have access to.  Your feed selection should complement your forage. Feed or supplemental fortification should fill gaps in forage nutrition, but the most important aspect is the quality of forage, as that makes up the majority of your horse’s source of energy.  Always consider your horse’s forage first and foremost.

What is on a tag?  Onto the feed concentrate; the most important aspect of your feed choice is the nutrients the feed will provide for your horse.  When you buy premium nutrition, you expect to get premium results…but, what you pay for may or may not be what you get.  So how can you tell?

First, check the tag for guaranteed analysis of nutrients.  A premium feed will be formulated to deliver your horse the optimal nutrition for their age and activity level.  Each horse varies to some degree in their metabolism and requirements, but in most cases, optimal nutrition will be formulated to provide the most digestible nutrients in levels that ensure your horse makes the most of every meal. 

With regard to nutrient levels, is more actually better? Not always.  Sometimes more is just more.  Take into consideration minerals.  Mineral fortification of a diet is only as good as the amount that is absorbed, so having more copper, zinc or manganese listed on the tag doesn’t mean that your horse is making use of it all.  Look for key words that indicate digestibility; for minerals, ‘organic’ means the mineral is tied to an amino acid and is readily absorbed.  For proteins, look for guaranteed levels of ‘lysine’, ‘methionine’ and ‘threonine’.  These are the protein components that matter most to your horse.  Sometimes more is just…well more.

In the scoop…Another way to compare feeds is to determine y how much you have to feed to give your horse the optimal level of nutrients guaranteed on the tag.  Most feed companies formulate their rations to provide an amount of digestible energy (DE) which determines the rate (or amount) which they recommend you feed.  All other nutrients, such as the vitamins and minerals, are concentrated based on that feeding rate.

For example, you have two different feeds you are considering for your horse who is at a ‘maintenance’ level energy requirement (meaning to keep his body condition score at or about a 6).  Feed A recommends you give him 2.5 pounds per day, while feed B recommends you feed a minimum of 4 pounds per day.  Keep in mind that  if you feed less than the recommended 4 pounds of feed B, not only will your horse not get the DE for his activity level, he will also not get the optimal amount of vitamins, minerals and amino acids (if they are guaranteed). Keep in mind percentages on the tag are only as good as the rate at which they are fed.

Functional Ingredients…..There are ingredients that provide the diet with big nutrients such as fat, fiber and protein.  There are ingredients that provide micro nutrients, such as minerals and vitamins.  And then there is a whole other class of ingredients are called ‘functional’ ingredients.  These items are intended to enhance the efficiency or digestibility of the feed, meaning your horse gets more out of every bite.  Consider prebiotics and probiotics for example.   Through research, both of these functional ingredients have shown to enhance the digestibility of many nutrients and improve overall gut health.  The addition of prebiotics and probiotics to a diet is intendedto aid your horse in getting that optimal nutrition for a premium result!

Valid Research… One last thing to take into consideration; a feed brand or company that has a research program is far more likely to understand the digestibility of ingredients and the nutrient requirements of the horse, versus a company that does not conduct research.  Many aspects of optimal nutrition, such as understanding digestibility, aren’t found on a tag, but are proprietary to the researching company.  Before you consider a feed that is advertised ‘just as good as, only cheaper’, consider what makes the real deal.  In most cases, a company that copy-cats a popular product doesn’t get you to the same level of quality, premium nutrition as the original.

So, is it really a premium feed?   Check the tag to find out.  Armed with this information, you can answer this question for yourself!

Five Myths of Horse Nutrition

As researchers and feed companies alike continue to make progress in understanding nutrition, more and more once-commonly held beliefs about horse feed are becoming obsolete.  Here are five common misconceptions about horse nutrition and what it means for you.

  • MYTH #1 : Horses don’t need ‘grain’
    • Most horse owners judge the effectiveness of their feeding program based on the weight of their horse(s).  Given good quality pasture or hay, the majority of idle horses will appear to do just fine without additional supplementation. Though this is a good foundation to start from, it is important to consider other health factors influenced by nutrition, such as hoof quality, muscle development, maintenance, performance and bone integrity. 
    • Providing your horse a feed that delivers the appropriate levels of amino acids, vitamins and minerals is the foundation for good nutritional health.  Most forages are either deficient or counterbalanced in many of these important micronutrients and offering a commercially balanced feed that is compatible will provide your horse what he needs to meet his minimum requirements.  A ration balancer provides this type of nutritional supplementation without adding calories.
  • MYTH #2 : All pelleted feeds contain floor sweepings
    • In the early days of pelleted horse feeds, this was probably based in reality more times than not.  Today however, it is not a common practice.  A reputable feed manufacturer will have stringent quality control programs in place such as HACCP (Hazardous Awareness and Critical Control Points) that prohibit the use of any material that is not an approved ingredient. 
    • In addition, the traceability of ingredients used in feeds is increasing in importance as the ingredient supply is stretched between feed, food and fuel.  Increased traceability means less chance of non-approved ingredients being included in pellets.  The bottom line: good quality control practices in the industry means quality ingredients and products you can trust.
    • Finally, using poor quality ingredients is just bad business.  Think about it this way: if a feed company manufactured a poor quality feed that animals did poorly on, than owners would stop purchasing it.  It is in the best interest of everyone involved to make quality feed from the start.
  • MYTH #3: Ingredient by-products are fillers
    • By-products such as wheat midds, soy hulls and corn germ meal are derived from the milling or processing of grains generally for food production.  For example, wheat midds are the husks remaining from flour milling, soy hulls are the husks of soybeans derived in the crush process for soy oil and beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar extraction process from sugar beets.  All of these by-products contain valuable nutrients that are readily available for digestion.
    • Because they are involved in the processing of ingredients for food, there is also quite a bit of variation in the levels of nutrients from differing suppliers or between loads.  A reputable feed company will test in-bound ingredients to ensure they contain quality nutrient levels, and then formulate their use based on what they provide.   Ask your feed manufacturer how they monitor and control the quality of ingredients coming into their feed mill.
  • MYTH #4: Corn is bad for horses
    • Feeding corn to horses does come with inherent risks.  First of all, certain strains of molds commonly found growing on corn create toxins called aflatoxins.  It is important that any feed maker test in-bound loads of corn to detect and reject loads based on the level of these toxins present.
    • Whole corn contains somewhere around 65% starch which, if consumed in large quantities, could overwhelm the digestive tract of the horse. Corn is however, an energy-dense ingredient, making it a highly available and desirable ingredient to provide energy in a feed ration. 
    • When fed alone, corn, like any other single grain is not nutritionally balanced to meet a horse’s needs. However, when provided as an ingredient in an overall balanced feed, it makes an excellent part of the makeup of the whole feed. When sourced, tested, processed and managed correctly, corn can bring many benefits to horse nutrition.
  • MYTH #5: Protein makes horses ‘hot’
    • We as horse owners have been programed to seek out a feed which provides a protein percentage that we believe our horses need, based on something someone somewhere told us.  Maybe it was mom.  Maybe it’s what worked for grandpa’s horses.  Whatever the source, you may be surprised to hear that protein does NOT make horses ‘hot’.  In fact, horses don’t even need protein….rather, their nutritional requirements are for the amino acids called Lysine, Methionine and Threonine. These are the building blocks of protein.
    • Protein is the least efficient energy source for horses, as compared to fiber, Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) and fats.  The metabolic pathways which convert protein into energy actually burns a lot of energy to convert (as compared to fiber for example), creates waste and is particularly hard on the kidneys when fed above requirements.  Ammonia production is an output of excess protein digestion; for a stable full of horses, this can have a huge impact.
    • As you consider protein in your horse’s diet, be sure to check that the feed provides guaranteed levels of Lysine, Methionine and Threonine.  This way, you know your horse will be meeting his nutritional requirement.

The study of nutrition has come a long way in the last 20 years and will continue to evolve thanks to investments in research and development.  Who knows what myths we’ll debunk in 20 years…..?

Feeding Donkeys

In the equine world we certainly do see variation. From Quarter Horses to Arabians, from miniature horses to draft horses – we all know that our equine friends come in all shapes, sizes and colors. But with horses we can usually apply certain rules for feeding across a large variety of breeds with minimal adjustments.

Donkeys are something all together different. While they are related to horses and considered an equid, the way their digestive system functions is much different – donkeys have actually been compared to small ruminants in their capabilities to digest and utilize fiber. While under a visual inspection the digestive tract of a donkey and horse is the same, the way donkeys ferment and use fiber is unique. Donkeys (descendants of the wild ass)  originated as desert animals and are adapted to foraging on coarse plants and grasses. Due to their typical desert diet, their digestive system is much more efficient than that of a horse, and therefore donkeys require a different feeding strategy.

Donkeys do well on high fiber diets that are not rich in protein or carbohydrates

In many parts of the world, donkeys face the issue of malnutrition and starvation. In industrialized countries, just the opposite is true – the main problem among donkeys is obesity. In countries like the United States we present donkeys with energy rich food and usually don’t require them to work very hard for it. People tend to feed these animals just like horses – but a diet that may be perfectly fine for a maintenance horse could cause the average donkey to become grossly overweight. Here are some good tips to follow when feeding donkeys:

  • DO NOT overfeed!
  • Consider age, work requirement, environment and body weight of the animal
  • Monitor body condition continuously using the Donkey Sanctuary Scale
  • Carefully watch levels of carbohydrates and protein
  • High fiber diets are preferred
While you should always provide plenty of fresh, clean water to your donkeys, it is true that they have a lower requirement for water than horses. In fact, donkeys have one of the lowest requirements for water among domesticated animals with the exception of the camel. 
To correctly care for your donkey, remember that it is not just a “horse with longer ears”. Donkeys are unique in their nutritional and care requirements, but they will give you endless enjoyment if you manage them properly.