Although protein only need make up a small part of a horse's diet it is still an essential part! Proteins make up a huge percentage of the structure of horses (and other living things) and are involved in many of the vital processes needed for life. Proteins are needed for growth, repair, replacement and development of cells and much, much more.
· enzymes: these are the catalysts that control biochemical reactions eg: digestion and cellular respiration
· structural proteins: form part of the horses body eg: skin, hair, collagen
· signal proteins: carry messages eg: insulin for the control of glucose in the blood
· contractile proteins: which are involved in movement eg: muscle contraction
· defensive proteins: including antibodies
· transport proteins: haemoglobin is a protein which carries oxygen in the blood
· storage proteins: store protein!
For a protein to carry out its function the amino acids must be in the correct order in the chain, if any of the amino acids are out of order the function will be disrupted.
The amino acids within a protein are organised in 4 ways:
Primary structure is the sequence of amino acids I have already mentioned
Secondary structure is the way the chains are folded or coiled
Tertiary structure results in 2 different types of protein:-
· Fibrous proteins - tough and insoluble in water eg: collagen, and keratin (component of hair)
· Globular proteins - spherical in shape eg: enzymes, antibodies and hormones.
Quarternary structure applies in some proteins which have more than one chain, these chains are then arranged in different ways.
Protein will give about the same amount of energy as carbohydrate, however, it is a much less efficient way to provide energy.
Horses are able to make some of the amino acids, the others must be taken in through their food. Any amino acids that the horse cannot synthesise (make) themselves are called essential amino acids.
Where to find protein:
Forages such as grass and hay deliver most horse's needs ( most grass hay contains 6 - 10% protein). Alfalfa and other legumes have higher levels, perhaps up to 12/14 %. Horses in hard work are likely to need higher levels and so may require specialist feeding. Peas, beans and alfalfa are good sources.
NB: too much protein can be just as damaging as too little!
See my feeding blog for more about this and our horses food.
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Until next time!