Protein deficiencies in horses can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. The most notable outward sign of protein deficiency is muscle loss or “wasting” across the topline (back, loin and croup). Additional deficiencies may include poor development in young horses, slow growing hooves, energy deficiency and lack of appetite. Protein is essential for milk production in lactating broodmares and an important component for gestating broodmares as well.
Protein requirements will vary depending on the age and life stage of your horse. Young and growing horses, late gestation and early lactating broodmares will all require higher levels of protein than your average maintenance horse. The specific protein requirement in horses is changing and updating constantly based on new data. A basic guideline is: a mature horse in light-work, requires between 10-12% total dietary protein/day. If that’s the case, why would we feed a 30% protein?
When we talk about protein requirements, we need to take a look at the largest portion of your horses diet, the hay or forage. Horses are hindgut fermenters and forage is the key to keeping them functioning at their best. On average your horse should consume between 1.5-2.5% of his bodyweight in hay, per day. That’s to say a 1,000lb. horse will eat between 15-25lbs of hay each day. The quality and type of forage will help to determine if your horse could benefit from a 30% protein concentrate. These types of feeds are often referred to as Ration Balancers and are concentrated in not only protein, but vitamins and minerals as well.
To accurately determine if you horses daily protein requirements are being met, it is best to have your forage tested from a reputable company. We use Equi-Analytical located in Ithaca, NY. They offer a wide variety of forage testing packages and return accurate results quickly. If you would like more information on forage analysis contact us for pricing and package options. We’ll help you determine which analysis package is best for your situation, the optimal way to collect forage samples (good samples = good results) and we’ll even help you to understand the test results.
For the purpose of this article we’ve gathered some average protein levels of common forage types.
The next piece of the puzzle is to find out what the guaranteed analysis is on your current feed. You can usually find this on the bag or on the tag. Here’s an example of a 12% protein feed that is commonly fed to horses.
Now that we have a better understanding of “how much” protein our horses need and where it’s coming from, we can do some simple math to determine if we’re meeting his/her requirements.
The comparison below gives a nice example on how to calculate protein percentages based on your feed and forage. Diet A and Diet B use the same type/quantity of forage(20lbs) and the same quantity of feed (2lbs). The only difference is that Diet A uses the 12%P feed from above and Diet B uses a 30%P concentrate feed. P = Protein
In this example the 30% ration balancer type feed from Diet B, not only meets the minimum daily protein requirement, but is also completely fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Visual signs of long-term protein deficiencies may often times be reversed with the correct application of a 30% protein feed concentrate or ration balancer. Just because it say’s 30% on the bag doesn’t mean your horse is receiving 30% per feeding. With a little bit of math and a forage analysis, we can help to balance your horses diet and improve overall nutrition!