Friday, 31 July 2015

What is in our horses' food?




Over the last year I have written several blogs about feeding; Feeding, Feed Types, Special Feeding  and Watering.  Today and next week I'm talking about what is in our horse's feed.


Food and water are vital to life.  Food provides energy which is needed for growth, tissue repair and the maintenance of life!  There are 3 main sources of energy:


Carbohydrates
These should be the main source of energy for a horse and should form two-thirds of his food intake.  Carbohydrates provide the energy for all cell processes and basic functions eg: breathing and for muscle contraction.  Carbohydrates are found in vegetable tissue so; plants, grass (hay) and grains. 


Carbohydrates comes in 3 different types; Starch, Sugar and Fibre.

Starch is where most energy is stored in plants and is digested in the small intestine of the horse.  Any starch (carbohydrate) not used for energy will be stored in the liver and muscles in a form known as glycogen - this can then be converted to sugars.

Sugars are simple forms of carbohydrate and these too are digested in the small intestine. Glucose is the preferred source of energy for most body tissues and it is the only type of energy that Red Blood Cells and the medulla of the Kidney can use.

Sugar and starch are both soluble carbohydrates - built up of molecules of glucose (a simple sugar).  Sugar and starch are broken down by digestive enzymes into glucose  before it can be absorbed through the walls.  See my Digestive System blog.



Fibre, this consists of cellulose and lignin.  Fibre stimulates gut action and so without it a horse cannot digest his food!  Cellulose contributes to the strength which allows grasses to stand upright.  It is an insoluble carbohydrate which means that it cannot be broken down by enzymes as the sugar and starch are.  Instead cellulose is broken down in the large colon and caecum by bacteria this produces volatile fatty acids which the horse can use to produce energy .  As plants get older - grass becomes more 'stemmy'  the lignin content increases - lignin is indigestible by the enzymes or bacteria!

Excess carbohydrate ie: carbohydrate that is not used for energy, will be stored as fat in the body!  However, not enough will cause the horse to break down it's body reserves to supply the energy they need.


Protein
This is the source of growth, repair, replacement and development of cells.  Protein makes up a large percentage of muscle tissue.  


Proteins are made up of chains of building blocks called amino acids, there are about 20 different amino acids, which can be linked together in any order and contain hundreds of amino acids.  The huge variety of amino acids mean that there are also many different types of proteins eg: hair, enzymes and meat. 

Horses are able to make some of these amino acids, the others must be taken in through their food.  Plants and micro-organisms can synthesise all amino acids.  Any amino acids that the horse cannot synthesise (make) themselves are called essential amino acids.  If a protein has lots of these essential amino acids then it is said to have 'high biological value' and would be a valuable addition to a horse's diet!   Peas, Beans and Alfalfa are some of the feeds high in protein.





It is worth noting that if one of the essential amino acids is low in a horse's diet it will affect the balance and therefore limit the use of all the other amino acids in the diet!  This will lead to a protein deficiency which leads to poor condition, poor muscle development and stunted growth in youngsters.
Excess protein in the diet causes the excess amino acids to be broken down in the liver and the resultant energy is stored as fat.


Fat
Fat is a highly concentrated source of energy and horses can easily digest it.  However horse's diets usually contain no more than 4% fat!  Fat is important for growth and maintenance of cell membranes, it helps maintain body temperature, metabolism of cholesterol, for energy and stamina.  Fats and oils can be found in Linseed. 



Alternatively adding oil to a horse's diet will provide much higher calories than other feedstuffs.  Therefore this is a useful addition for endurance horses or eventers.  It also helps add weight on to horses when needed.  Chesney has been having oil added to his feed for a number of months as I try to build him back up.  




Food also provides Vitamins and Minerals and  I will cover these in next week's blog.


Have you seen this week's vlog 'One Day in January' on my You Tube channel.   
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Until next time!
Jo

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