Equine

Themed Image2
 

 

 

 
 

Corn Versus Oats

Horses also like sweet feed. The average sweet feed has oats which is OK and some have processed alfalfa which is wonderful, and then corn which we don’t want, and molasses to make it taste sweet to the horse. Some have minerals added. That is good if they are in the right proportion and properly supplement the minerals in your hay and the pasture. Now every one’s Uncle has told them that hay gives a horse ‘hay belly’. No, that is Lignin. They also tell us corn gives heat and energy and a shiny coat. That is true if you are able to digest it. But remember the horse has evolved to digest fiber not starch and so only a quarter of the digestive enzymes and microbes in the horse intestine can break it down. There is also that unfortunate part of feeding our horses called paying for the feed. Many of us need to be mindful of what it costs to feed our horses. Some years it is hard to find good hay that has not been damaged by weather conditions.

 

So let us look at what your horse can eat and how we can feed them well, with out breaking the budget. Your horse can eat anything they can chew, but they digest and get nutrition from fiber (70% of diet), protein, glucose, fructose, starch (not over 25% of diet) and fat. Now telling your Uncle that your horse can digest fat will make his eyes do that thing they do when you try and explain your computer net-work problems at work. But, the average thousand pound horse can eat the equivalent of four pounds of butter a day. I agree that would be too gross to watch, but it would give them a lot of calories which are the things that give heat, energy, and a shiny coat. Gee, that sounds a lot like corn? Let us take a short look at how your horse digests its food to understand what we want to feed them. I promise to keep this simple.

 

The horse chews their food to break open the grains and cell walls of the plants. The plants have used energy from the sun to form the bonds of structural carbohydrates that make fiber. Enzymes in saliva (spit) and the horse’s digestive tract, along with microorganisms break these bonds and release the energy to let the horse grow, stay warm, and carry us around. Seventy percent of your horse’s total energy comes from the digestion of fiber. This is where you want to put your money. Buy good quality forage with digestible fiber. Remember the Lignin from our discussion on “hay belly”? Lignin is indigestible fiber, wood, or poor quality hay. The only things that get energy out of lignin are termites and fire. Digestible fiber is a polysaccharide such as cellulose, a six carbon sugar C6H12O6 called glucose held together by beta bonds, and Hemicellulose , a five carbon sugar held together by beta bonds. Non-fiber carbohydrates are six carbon sugars held together by alpha bonds (the nastiest).  These polysaccharides are starch.

 

The horse chews their food to break open the grains and cell walls of the plants. The plants have used energy from the sun to form the bonds of structural carbohydrates that make fiber. Enzymes in saliva (spit) and the horse’s digestive tract, along with microorganisms break these bonds and release the energy to let the horse grow, stay warm, and carry us around. Seventy percent of your horse’s total energy comes from the digestion of fiber. This is where you want to put your money. Buy good quality forage with digestible fiber. Remember the Lignin from our discussion on “hay belly”? Lignin is indigestible fiber, wood, or poor quality hay. The only things that get energy out of lignin are termites and fire. Digestible fiber is a polysaccharide such as cellulose, a six carbon sugar C6H12O6 called glucose held together by beta bonds, and Hemicellulose , a five carbon sugar held together by beta bonds. Non-fiber carbohydrates are six carbon sugars held together by alpha bonds (the nastiest).  These polysaccharides are starch.

 

The stomach and small intestine digest starch, fat, and protein, and absorb most vitamins and minerals. The large intestine cecum and colon ferment and break-down fiber and produce B-vitamins. B-vitamins are so important and are key to metabolism. Your horse needs them every day, and makes them from the fermentation of fiber.

 

Depending on the size of the horse, the stomach holds 6-12 quarts. The small intestine is seventy feet long and holds 48 quarts. The cecum is the size of my leg and holds 30 quarts, and the colon holds 80 quarts.  Compare this to the cow, a real corn burner. The cow has all it’s volume in the front of its digestive tract. The four compartment fore-stomach ferments starches before they pass through the glandular stomach and small intestine. In this way the starch from corn does not get to the fiber digesting colon. The poor horse does not have a rumen, so the starch in corn passes to the colon. Only 25% of the digestive enzymes in the colon digest starches, so it hangs around and rapidly ferments causing  acidosis and killing off many beneficial fiber digesting organisms.

 

This has been associated with insulin resistance, gastric ulcers, laminitis, growth rate fluctuations, flexure deformities, hyperlipidemia, oxidative stress, typhlitis, colitis, diarrhea, and colic. Bad.

 

Let us compare this to oats. Corn is 71% starch, 4% fats, 8% protein, and 0% fermentable fiber. Oats is 53% starch, 5% fats, 12% protein, and 0% fermentable fiber.

 

 

CORN

OATS

starch

71%                                                                  

53%

fats

4%

5%

protein

8%

12%

fermentable fiber

0%

0%

small intestine digestion

30%

84% (good)

large intestine digestion

70% (bad)

16% (good)

starch to fiber ratio

25/1  (bad)

0.7/1 (good)

 

This is why the horse can handle the starch in oats better than corn.

 

(For the biochemists out there. If you pop the corn you will gelatinize the starch and increase the small intestine absorption. I am not recommending feeding pop corn to horses.)

 

Consider feeding soybean hulls. The fermentable fiber is 58%, fats are 1%, protein is 12%, non-starch carbohydrates are 19%, and no starch.

 

Fats give your horse 2 ½ times the energy of carbohydrates. Look at a mare’s milk, it has lots of fat. Fat has a sparing effect on muscle glycogen stores. Fat is more calorie-dense for growth. Fat can reduce the need of high starch grain feeds for energy, and they handle heat better. Your horse may be less reactive if you replace the carbohydrates with fats. Fat in the blood stream can be burned before the glycogen stores. This can help race horses finish stronger and reduces the production of lactic acid in the muscle which can help with tying-up. The omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.

 

Protein and water are the main ingredients of a horse. It is a needed and valuable nutrient to the horse. It takes energy to digest and is expensive to buy. Best value: good alfalfa hay 17%, next soybean hulls at 12%, oats at 12%, corn at 8%, poor grass hay at 6%.

 

Summary:

  • Your horse is an individual. Let your veterinarian help you with feeding your horse
  • Guidelines would be, aim for 3% of body weight in forage (hay and pasture) per day
  • Rice is a good source of fat, but rice hulls are indigestible
  • Peanut hulls are bad because of too many mycotoxins
  • Vitamins and minerals are important on a daily bases. Buying a forage based pelleted product with vitamins and minerals in it can be the most consistent way to provide them
  • Weigh the costs of one program to another. It can really save you some money and give you the best performance and conditioning
  • Stress on forage plants causes them to produce non-soluble carbohydrates
  • Fertilizer and water pushes starch production in plants. Cool sunny weather promotes high sugar contents in forage including Fructans which have been linked to grass founder. This is not as prevalent in alfalfas
  • If you store feed in a bulk container, don’t dump new feed on top of old feed. Clear out the old feed first so it does not mold or go rancid

Enjoy your horse.