Answering questions about protein requirements
Owners, stable and stud managers want to provide their horses with adequate nourishment, but they may be confused about the best way to meet the protein requirements of animals with different workloads or ages. While each horse needs to be considered as an individual, these basic guidelines may help to answer many questions.
“How much protein does a horse need?”
A horse’s requirement for protein is determined by the animal’s stage of development and workload. Some general recommendations are listed below.
A mature horse (average weight of 500kgs) needs about 630gms of protein a day for maintenance, early pregnancy, or light work. The horse usually ingests at least this much protein by grazing or eating grass hay (dry matter intake of about 10kgs)
A mature horse doing moderate to heavy work needs about 900 to 980gms of protein a day. An owner could feed 10kgs of grass or hay and add 1 – 2 kgs of concentrate feed to meet the protein requirements.
A broodmare in late pregnancy needs high quality protein to build placental and foetal tissue. Forage with a moderate percentage of lucerne may provide this protein, but mares on marginal grazing benefit from the addition of 1 to 2 kgs of concentrate containing 13 – 16% protein.
A broodmare in the first three months of lactation requires about 1250gms of protein each day. Besides grass or hay, she might need up to 3.5kgs of concentrate feed to ensure this much protein in her diet.
Protein needs are lower for broodmares in late lactation (after three months). Grass or hay and 1 – 2kgs of concentrate feed would supply a requirement of about 900gms of protein.
Weanlings weighing 250kgs need about 730gms of protein daily. Because these younger horses eat less grass or hay, concentrate feed intake can be increased to about 3kgs a day. Yearlings weighing 390kgs eat more grass or hay and require about 2kgs of concentrate to bring protein intake to 800gms a day.
To meet the protein demands of young horses in training, owners may need to feed as much as 3.5kgs of concentrate along with 6kgs of hay to provide the 900gms of protein that is required.
“What is meant by high quality or low quality protein?”
All horses need protein, but not all protein is the same. Protein is made up of different amino acids, some of which can be synthesized within the horse’s body. Amino acids that cannot be synthesized are called essential amino acids and must be supplied in the feed. High quality protein is that which supplies the essential amino acids in the proper ratios. It is possible for a horse to eat enough low quality forage to meet its crude protein requirement and still not be properly nourished.
“Why is protein so important for young horses?”
Lysine, methionine, and threonine are the most important amino acids that must be provided in equine rations. Diets for young horses need to include sufficient lysine to support growth and development. The protein in mare’s milk is a rich source of lysine, as is the soybean meal included in Capstone concentrate feeds. Legumes such as lucerne also provide adequate amounts of lysine, while grasses and most cereal grains contain lower percentages of this important nutrient.
“Do older horses need protein?”Adult horses need protein only for repair and maintenance of body tissues, so their total requirement is fairly low. Many mature horses get all the protein they need (about 10% of the diet, on average) from grass or hay. Owners can confirm that this need is met by having pastures and hay analysed. If the analysis shows that the protein level is below 10%, an easy way to boost protein consumption is to offer some lucerne hay along with, or instead of, the low quality forage that has been provided. Heavily exercised horses have a somewhat higher need for protein than maintenance horses, and the protein requirement is highest for late pregnant broodmares and those in the first three months of lactation. If these horses also require extra energy, the addition of concentrated feed to the diet can increase the intake of both energy and protein.
“Is there a low calorie way to provide protein to overweight horses?”
Many people are faced with the problem of trying to provide easy doers with good nutrition while preventing excessive weight gain. Increasing the horse’s exercise is often helpful, but this method is not always practical. For example, it might be difficult to apply this plan to an unridden broodmare that needs the nutrients in a concentrate but tends to gain weight easily. This dilemma can be solved with the use of a feed such as Capstone LifeTime Balancer Pellet or Capstone FlexiTime. These products are designed to deliver protein, vitamins, and minerals without significantly increasing calorie intake. With protein percentages from 25 – 30%, these feeds are fed in small quantities to fortify the horse’s diet without providing unnecessary calories.
“How do I know what feeding program is best for my horse?”
There are multiple ways to meet a particular horse’s protein requirement by selecting from the various types of forage and the wide variety of available feed products. To ensure the proper amounts of protein and energy in equine diets, begin with high quality forage and then supplement as needed with a balanced concentrate designed for the type of horse you are feeding.