A few weeks ago we asked you to share your horse feeding questions. Sadly we couldn’t include them all in this blog but here we answer 5 of the questions you’ve always wanted to know the answer to…
Can copper really play an important role in keeping my horse’s coat black?
The enzyme responsible for the melanin pigments which determine coat colour is dependent on copper, so a supplement may seem like a logical solution. However if you are feeding the recommended amount of compound feed, balancer or broad spectrum supplement, your horse’s copper requirements should easily be met, if not exceeded. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that additional copper can improve coat colour or prevent loss of pigmentation and in fact, copper can be harmful if oversupplied. Excess copper can also inhibit zinc absorption which is also involved in coat colour.
Do horses that don’t get a balanced diet really suffer?
Although required in small amounts, vitamins and minerals play many essential roles in the body including the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contractions, immunity, bone health, enzyme composition and energy metabolism to name only a few. Forage is unlikely to supply a balanced diet with some key nutrients such as copper and zinc being typically low in UK pasture regardless of the season. In the short term nutrient imbalances in the diet are unlikely to have any effect but overtime, may comprise health and well-being with perhaps the most visible effects being on skin, coat and hoof health.
Do the majority of feeds already contain the required amount of salt and if not, what type and how much should I be adding to my horse’s feed?
When horse’s sweat they lose electrolytes (mineral salts), the main ones being sodium, potassium and chloride. Salt attracts water (which would affect product quality due to additional moisture) so whilst compound feeds provide suitable levels of salt to balance the diet, it’s not possible to replace potential losses via sweat. Even if it were, the amount of electrolytes lost is directly related to sweat which varies between individuals and therefore replacement via compound feed wouldn’t be the most effective strategy. Access to a salt lick is more than sufficient for horses in light work and for those sweating regularly, 1-2 tablespoons of table salt and plenty of forage is an effective replacement in most cases. Table salt (the salt you put on your chips!) is made up of sodium and chloride whilst forage is naturally high in potassium.
What is the difference between cubes and mixes?
Visual appearance aside, the main difference is the ingredients and consequently the levels of fibre, starch and sometimes oil they provide, all of which are sources of energy. In general, equivalent cubes and mixes for example ‘racing mix’ and ‘racehorse cubes’ are formulated to provide the same amounts of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. However whole cereal grains such as oats, barley and maize are high in starch and as a result, mixes are almost always higher in starch than the equivalent cube. When making a cube, flaked cereal grains can be replaced with fibrous ingredients and if necessary oil, to produce a feed that contains the required amount of energy with less starch.
There is a lot of bad press about the use of soya in equine feeds yet so many companies with highly qualified nutritionists use it in their products. Is it all bad?
Depending on where you look, an internet search of ‘soya in horse feed’ can produce some alarming results with claims of stunted growth, hormone imbalance, rickets and digestive upsets. Much of the concern stems from several decades of controversy related to human diets and detrimental effects in other animals caused by unsuitable processing. Soya beans must be properly cooked before feeding to reduce an enzyme which inhibits protein digestion. Under-heating has been seen to significantly increase the need for vitamin D in young poultry in order to prevent rickets and has led to reduced growth, protein and feed efficiency in single stomached animals and young ruminants. Overheating on the other hand destroys essential amino acids - the building blocks of protein.
Soya beans have been successfully fed to farm animals and to horses for many years and are an excellent source of protein containing a high level of lysine the essential (meaning it can’t be produced by the horse and must be provided in the diet) amino acid which is often lacking in the diet of horses fed conserved forage. Soya hulls, which are the outer casing of soya beans, provide a source of highly digestible fibre and are often referred to as a ‘superfibre’ alongside sugar beet as they contain considerably more digestible fibre than hay. Containing a similar level of digestible energy (calories) to cereals has allowed nutritionists to replace starch in feeds without compromising energy delivery which has numerous benefits not least enhanced digestive health.
Do you have a question of your own? If so why not ask it in the comments section below?!