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Integrated nutrition: a new equine concept
For many years the feed management of production animals has been carefully “integrated” to maximise output. Integration means that every nutritional component in the feed intake, including the essential supplementation, has to be optimised.
Performance horses are athletes and they also require sophisticated feed management in order to promote the best possible performance. It is well known that performance is determined by several parameters including genetic structure, training and various environmental factors. Feed management is just one of these factors that can limit performance.
Without going too deeply into the science, good feeding is fundamental to horses’ health and well-being and the following points should be noted:
- Optimum energy intake for foals and young horses is determined by the growth curve whereas in older horses it is dependent on body score and the performance required. Energy is particularly important for movement.
- Good fibre intake is essential preferably in the form of top quality hay with access to pasture or alfalfa (lucerne) where possible. The main component of fibre is cellulose which, because of its structure, helps regulate the passage of feed through the gut and also promotes intestinal fermentation.
- Protein intake from the feed components must be taken into account.
- Usually, most of the required minerals are contained in the basic feed. Even so it is important to control the ratio of calcium to phosphorus and the magnesium intake.
- Every category of horses, according to physiological stage of development or discipline, requires a supply of micronutrients: 14 vitamins and 7 trace elements in the right amounts to meet their needs.
It is important to ensure the feed includes a variety of materials to encourage appetite, maintain good gut flow, promote intestinal fermentation and bioavailability of all macro- and micro-nutrients.
TWYDIL® has studied the nutritional integration of:
Minerals were the first micronutrients to be added to horse feeds. As more became known about the importance of different minerals, the supplements were altered and consideration was given to the needs for electrolytes. We began to consider electrolytes not only as essential elements to compensate for losses in sweat but also as agents able to regulate muscle contractions and buffer the acid/alkali ratio. Additionally it was shown that these electrically charged elements could be stored in solution in the horse’s lower intestines to be used as a reserve during effort. This means that a balanced daily supply of electrolytes is better than a massive over-supply the day following a major effort.
Fatty acids are the component parts of fats and oils and have very important roles in horse metabolism:
- They form the structure of cell membranes, have important roles in cell functions and in cell integrity.
- Their role in the production of enzymes and hormones is also very important, and fatty acid balance in the feed can affect output.
- They require very efficient oxidation in order to produce good energy for long term effort.
If the amount of fatty acids in a diet is increased, it affects the vitamin and mineral requirements. For example if there is a large proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids in a dietary oil, the vitamin E requirements can double and the absorption of magnesium is reduced.
The quality of the oil and its storage are very important. Our suppliers work with cold pressure and preserve oil in an atmosphere of nitrogen to prevent oxidation. Poor quality, oxidised oils can lead to tendonitis, arthritis and many other unpleasant effects. TWYDIL® has established a system of production, packing and storage that guarantees the quality of its fatty products.
Some research studies have shown that the addition of fat to feeds can improve horse performance, particularly in endurance races.
The specific needs of horses have not been thoroughly investigated but studies have indicated that horses are well able to digest fats. Fat should be added to rations for horses competing in endurance races, horses affected with muscle problems and any that are loosing body condition.
For many years research workers assumed, wrongly, that the length and nature of fibre was not a critical factor in the nutrition of monogastric herbivores (compared to ruminants). More recent research has shown that the nature and length of fibre is very important. Fibre in the diet consists mainly of long chain polysaccharides, possibly strengthened by woody lignin.
Long fibres have several roles that are beneficial at various stages of food digestion and absorption:
- The length of the fibre promotes proper chewing and salivation, allowing adequate dental wear; saliva has an important effect both in moistening the feed to allow easy swallowing and a buffering effect in the stomach.
- Adequate long fibre helps limit the occurrence of stomach ulcers.
- Long fibre aids the motility of digesta in the small intestine and the development and action of the intestinal villus.
- Fibre undergoes a fermentation process in the large intestine leading to the production of slow-release energy in the form of volatile fatty acids that are absorbed with water and mineral salts to create reservoirs that can be used during effort.
One wonders why it is necessary to consider all the vitamins when formulating equine diets. Horses are not able to synthesise any of the vitamins and, although there are small amounts of vitamins in the natural ingredients of a feed, the amounts are insufficient for the needs of horses in training. They are indispensable for good metabolism, particularly during effort.
The exact needs of horses in different disciplines for the various essential trace elements have not been determined. They are involved in many different physiological pathways sometimes as separate ingredients or in association with others so it is important not only to consider the supply of each micronutrient but also their bioavailability and the ratio between them after absorption.
The latest research indicates that there is an advantage in combining different sources of trace elements (mineral and organic) to improve bioavailability. This may be particularly important in the nutrition of young horses or those in stressful situations.
Many articles on horse nutrition refer only to the need to formulate diets according to the protein content. The recommendation for adult horses is 12 % in the dry matter whereas young growing horses or lactating mares require 14 – 16 % of DM.
Proteins are made up from chains of amino acids – units containing one or more carboxylic acid (-COOH) radicals and one or more amide (-NH2) groups. TWYDIL® proposes the integration of amino acids in equine nutrition in order to balance their individual effects beneficially.
Out of the 21 basic amino acids, 11 or 12 are essential for horses, and a balance between them in the feed significantly improves its efficacy.
Optimal balance of essential amino acids:
|Amino acid||Arbitrary unit*|
* arbitrary unit in comparison to lysine = 100
POLYPHENOLS AND OTHER PLANT EXTRACTS
Since the beginning of time animal species have used plants from their surroundings to help their health and well-being. Plants, thanks to their ability to adapt to their surroundings, produce numerous molecules that can help fight different risks.
The most frequently useful phytochemical compounds for animal health and nutrition are the polyphenols, which are often named after the plant family where they are found: quercetin, flavonoid, anthocyanin, tannin, catechin, saponin, alkaloid. Their effects are mostly antioxidant and, depending on their pharmacodynamics, they target particular cells or organs inside the body to produce their protective, regulation or toxic effects.
TWYDIL® uses plant extracts from European producers, mainly derivatives from hydro-alcoholic extraction processes. Some natural molecules, such as caffeine and morphine, are doping positive and banned substances in equine nutrition. So when using plant extracts the first step in our quality control is to have each batch analysed at the LCH in order to eliminate any batches that might be contaminated.