Archive for March 22nd, 2012

It’s Spring – Ready, Set, Ride!

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Now that the weather has finally warmed up, horse owners are starting to spend more time with their horses, and are looking forward to even more enjoyable riding weather. There are some nutritional concerns, however, during this season, and some management issues we should address to ensure the health and performance of our horses.

First, as we start working our horses more, we must increase the plane of nutrition to ensure that the horse’s increased requirements are met. Energy is possibly the most important nutrient to consider in a working horse. As a horse works harder, its energy (calorie) requirement increases, and we must supply those additional calories in a form that will not compromise the horse’s digestive health. We can add more calories by increasing the amount of grain in the ration, but grain is high in starch, and too much starch (and other soluble carbohydrates) may lead to digestive disturbances such as colic and/or laminitis. Safer energy sources include fat and fermentable fibers.
Feeds such as Purina’s Ultium® Competition, Strategy® Professional Formula GX, and Omolene #500® Horse Feed are higher in fat and fermentable fibers, and lower in starch than traditional sweet feeds, therefore are excellent feeds to increase the calories in a working horse’s diet. Omolene #200® Horse Feed is another excellent feed for these situations, as more of the calories are supplied by fat, and less by starch. These performance feeds also contain the amino acids, vitamins and minerals to support the increased demands of the performance horse. Keep in mind that all feeding changes must be made gradually, so it is important to gradually increase the amount of feed as the horse’s work load increases.

If you are not planning to ride your horse hard, however, or your horse is naturally an easy keeper, a concentrated feed such as Nature’s Essentials® Enrich 32® Supplement may be the best way to meet the horse’s nutritional needs without adding many calories. If your horse stays in good body condition (not too fat or too thin) on just hay or pasture, feeding one to two pounds of Nature’s Essentials® Enrich 32® or Enrich 12® Supplement will provide the protein, vitamins and minerals that the horse needs to stay healthy.

Next, we need to keep in mind that the forage portion of the horse’s diet may be changing, and we must be aware that some of these changes may be problematic for some horses. For some horses, the advent of spring means that the source of forage changes from hay to fresh grass. If this is the case, the horse owner should take care to minimize the risk of laminitis as horses are exposed to fresh pastures.

Why can fresh grass cause laminitis in horses? During the process of photosynthesis, plants manufacture sugars that are either used for metabolic processes such as growth, or are stored as polysaccharides such as starch or fructan. The storage form of the sugars depends on the plant species. In certain situations, such as the warm sunny days and chilly nights that we see in the spring and the fall, the plants use fewer sugars for growth, and therefore store more as polysaccharides. This can cause problems for horses, especially when the sugars are stored as fructan, because fructan does not appear to be digested in the horse’s upper gut (where starch is digested and absorbed), but instead passes into the hindgut where it is fermented by the microbes. It is this fermentation of fructan that appears to be a trigger factor for colic and/or laminitis, similar to a grain overload in horses. The fermentation of fiber carbohydrates in the hindgut is normal, and does not cause digestive disorders in the horse.

Other environmental conditions that can affect the amount of polysaccharide storage in plants include drought stress, duration and intensity of sunlight, salinity (salt content) of soil, and overall health of the plant. Again, some species of grass, including cool season grasses, tend to store sugars as fructan, while others, the warm season grasses, tend to store sugars as starch and are less likely to cause problems.

How then do we manage pastures to minimize the risk of laminitis? Horses that are kept on pasture year-round usually adjust to the new grass as it grows. Nature does a fairly good job of making the pasture change gradually.  The problems usually occur when horses have been confined and fed a hay and grain diet during the winter, and are then abruptly turned out on the lush green pasture in the spring. Further, horses that have been kept up through the winter may overeat when turned out because of the palatability of the lush green foliage. This sudden change in the diet, especially when it includes a rapid influx of the unfamiliar fructan into the hindgut, may trigger digestive upset.
There are several ways to prevent or minimize problems when introducing horses to spring pastures. Feeding hay immediately before turn-out may help keep horses from overeating, since they are less likely to overeat on an already full stomach. Restricting grazing time will also help minimize risks. A suggested schedule is: thirty minutes of grazing once or twice a day on the first day of grazing; then increase grazing time by 5-10 minutes per day until the horses are grazing 4-6 hours per day total. At this point, they have adapted to the green grass.

One final consideration when getting back into the saddle is the condition of the horse. On that first warm sunny day, it is very tempting to head out to the barn for a nice, long trail ride to enjoy the great weather. However, if you have not been riding your horse regularly through the winter, your horse is not conditioned for that type of physical activity (and possibly neither are you!). To prevent muscle soreness, and possibly “tying-up”, horses should be gradually reintroduced to work. Start with slow, easy work and short workouts, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the workouts until your horse is adequately conditioned. This will help decrease the risk of problems and injuries in your horse. It may take up to 90 days to get a horse properly conditioned for strenuous physical workouts.

Once your horse’s nutritional and management considerations are addressed, and your horse is adequately conditioned for the desired workload, you are ready to head out and enjoy the season!

Source: By Dr. Katie Young, Consulting Equine Nutritionist, Purina Mills, LLC

Feeding A Lactating Mare

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Trakehner. Such beautiful horses here!

When a mare foals, her daily nutrient requirements increase significantly, nearly double that of early gestation. These nutrient needs must be met for the mare to recover from foaling stress, produce milk, and rebreed without losing body condition. Underfeeding mares during early lactation will result in lower milk production and weight loss. Early lactation weight loss, especially in mares that foal in thin condition, will likely affect the mare’s ability to raise her new foal and become pregnant again. Mares produce an average of 24 pounds (3 gallons) of milk daily during a 5-month lactation period. This represents 450 gallons or 1 3/4 tons of milk over 150 days. High producing mares yield as much as 32 pounds (4 gallons) of milk daily. Production appears to peak at 30 days and then slowly decline. Nutrient content of mares’ milk follows a more drastic downward curve. In the fourth month of lactation, a mare’s milk provides less than 30 percent of the total energy needed by her foal. Providing lactating mares with a feed such as Purina Omolene 200 or Strategy that includes added fats or oils and high quality protein can help slow the downward curve of production and improve nutrient content of the milk. This will translate into an early growth advantage for the nursing foal.In the fourth, fifth and sixth months of lactation, daily nutrient requirements of mares begin to decrease along with declining milk production, but nutrient requirements of the foals are increasing. Foals should have had access to a properly balanced foal feed, at the rate of one pound per month of age per day, beginning within a few days of foaling. Once the foal is 4 months old, it is more nutritionally accurate for the foal and more economical for the horseman to feed the foal a quality diet to meet his needs than it is to feed the mare to produce milk. Once the foal is weaned, the dry, pregnant mare can be managed as an early gestating mare once again. Through proper health care, feeding management and breeding techniques, the mare can produce a strong, healthy foal each year.




Efficacy of Yeast Products In Equine Diets

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Two horses eating hay

In the past several years, multiple sources have recommended yeast products for inclusion in equine diets for many purposes, including improving fiber and phosphorus digestibility, increase feed efficiency, support hindgut bacteria, and even prevention and cure of gastric ulcers. However, a close look at the published data available on the efficacy of supplementing yeast culture in the diets of horses does not support the claims of positive effects in horses fed quality diets that meet nutritional requirements.

AAFCO defines a number of yeast products as feed ingredients, including dried yeast, yeast culture and yeast extract. Dried yeast may be either active or nonfermentative. Yeast culture is a dried product composed of viable yeast cells and the media on which it was grown. Yeast extract is a dried or concentrated product of cell contents from ruptured yeast cells.

Studies in ruminants suggest that addition of yeast products to ruminant diets promote bacterial growth in the rumen. It is generally believed that yeast additives either directly facilitate fiber digestion and dry matter intake, or contain metabolites or compounds that stimulate bacterial growth to facilitate fermentation and animal performance in ruminants. Since horses have fermentative capability in the hindgut, it has long been proposed that yeast products may have beneficial effects on digestion/fermentation in the hindgut, resulting in enhanced fermentation and increased fiber and/or nutrient digestibility.

According to the 2007 National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses, “Unlike observed effects in ruminant studies, supplementation of yeast in horse diets tended to show some beneficial effects on fermentation, but results were equivocalacross studies.” There is great variation in published results of feeding yeast products to horses – most studies report minimal to no increase in cecal or colonic bacterial cultures as a result of feeding yeast products, although a few studies have reported beneficial effects when yeast products were fed with very high starch diets, or with low quality forages. Some studies have reported no improvement in nutrient apparent digestibility when yeast products were fed to mature horses, but others have reported some improvements in fiber and nutrient digestibility. However, the reports of improved digestibility of nutrients with the addition of yeast products are most often seen when yeast products are added to nutritionally deficient diets. The Purina Equine Research team recently completed a thorough, long-term study that looked at the efficacy of yeast in enhancing fiber digestion in horses, as well as several other parameters, and the data indicated no effects of yeast on fiber digestion. This data is currently being prepared for submission for publication in a scientific journal. However, ongoing Purina research continues to investigate potential effects of yeast products on other parameters of equine digestion, health and performance.

Yeast products can be a source of quality nutrients, including essential amino acids and B-vitamins, so adding yeast products to a nutritionally deficient diet will result in improved performance in horses, just as addition of any ingredient that supplies deficient nutrients to a ration will result in improvement in performance. However, when yeast products are added to diets that are nutritionally balanced and fortified to meet a horse’s nutrient requirements, the additional nutrients provided by the yeast products have not shown measurable benefit. At this time, there is insufficient data to support the inclusion of yeast products in horse feeds for benefits other than those simply provided by the nutrient content of the yeast products, and there are many other feed ingredients that provide quality nutrients for optimal nutrient content in horse rations. Purina Premium Horse Feeds are nutritionally fortified and balanced with quality protein sources as well as specific essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins to meet horses’ nutritional requirements when fed as recommended. And, of course, if and when we elucidate beneficial effects of yeast products in horses, we will share those findings with our customers and add them to our feed formulations.

Katie Young, Ph.D. Land O’Lakes Purina Feed


Beating the Heat – Caring for Performance Horses in Hot Weather

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Heat and humidity Français : Cheval en train de boire. English: ...put an added burden on horses during training, showing and hauling. Horses are actually better equipped to work in cold weather than in the heat. They build up a tremendous amount of body heat due to the internal heat produced by fiber digestion and the large mass of working muscles, combined with insulation from their hair coat and body fat cover.

Normal body temperature for a mature horse at rest is 99 – 101° F. Under working conditions this can rise to 102 – 104° F, but with the same work under hot, humid conditions body temperature can elevate dangerously to 106 – 107° F. Body temperatures of 104° F or higher for any extended amount of time can be life threatening.

A horse’s main cooling mechanism is evaporation of sweat from the skin surface. Increased blood flow in the veins and capillaries close to the skin and elevated respiration rate help dissipate internal heat as well. Increasing humidity reduces the evaporation of sweat from the skin, thereby decreasing the cooling ability. Under extreme heat, especially when humidity is high, the body’s cooling mechanisms may not work well enough to dissipate the heat generated. This can lead to heat stress which is hard on the body and can impair performance.

A simple calculation of Ambient Temperature (° F) + Relative Humidity (%) – Wind Speed (mph) will indicate heat stress risk level. For example, ambient temperature of 98°F with a 55% relative humidity and wind at 5 mph; 98 + 55 – 5 = 148. If the calculation equals 130 or less, then the horse’s own cooling mechanisms will work effectively. Between 140 and 170, the horse has partial cooling capacity and may need some assistance cooling down. When the result is greater than 180, the horse has a significantly impaired ability to cool and is at high risk for heat stress or even heat stroke.

Horses unaccustomed to the heat or those not properly conditioned will sweat more for a given amount of work than fit or acclimatized horses. While it is necessary for horses to sweat to help cool the body, sweat generated during work robs the body of fluids and important nutrients that must be replenished. Horse sweat is more concentrated than human sweat, meaning it contains a higher concentration of electrolytes. Electrolytes are electrically charged mineral salts that play a large role in water balance and are integral to nerve and muscle function. An electrolyte imbalance can lead to heart problems, digestive dysfunction, muscle cramps and nervousness. The primary electrolytes lost in equine sweat are sodium, potassium, and chloride.

Horses working at light to moderate levels will receive adequate electrolytes from nutritionally balanced feed, good quality hay and a salt block or a couple ounces of loose salt per day. Even if these horses are sweating a bit, a good diet along with clean water will replenish everything lost in the sweat. However, horses working very hard in hot, humid climates and sweating a great deal may need additional electrolyte supplementation.

Electrolyte supplementation should be approached carefully. First, never give electrolyte supplementation to an already dehydrated horse. Second, the body has a set requirement for electrolytes but doesn’t store any extra. If supplemental electrolytes are provided in excess amounts, the body will become very efficient at eliminating them in the urine. This causes the horse to urinate more frequently, thus increasing water needs and making it more difficult to stay hydrated. Also, if the body is flushing excess electrolytes out of the system to keep the balance, on a day when additional electrolytes may be needed, they won’t be available. Therefore, the best recommendation is to p

rovide a well balanced feed, good quality hay and free choice salt and water on a daily basis. Provide additional electrolyte supplementation the day before, the day of, and the day after an event in which the horse works

extremely hard and sweats excessively. There are many commercial electrolyte supplements available, or a home-made mix of 3 parts salt (sodium chloride) and one part lite salt (potassium chloride) is an option. Remember though, for the vast majority of working horses, the sodium and chloride requirements can be met with a couple ounces of plain salt per day and the potassium, calcium and magnesium requirements will be met by a well balanced quality feed and hay. Therefore additional electrolyte supplementation is needed only at those times when a horse will be sweating large amounts for an extended time frame.


By Karen E. Davison, Ph.D., Manager – Technical Services, Purina Mills, LLC


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March 2012