Equine Nutrition – Working / Performance
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Can you tell me about building up a topline to increase muscle in a horses back?
A balanced diet (forage & balanced formula) and exercise are required to allow the genetic potential of the horse to occur. Contrary to all the hype by some products there is no easy feeding-only approach for “feeding for muscle”. It works in cattle only because of decades of science and research with genetic selection for muscling and intramuscular fat. Muscling has been a factor in selection for some breeds, such as Q-Horses, but is not the only factor that determines breeding plans and of course has not had the science and research to guide the process as evident in food animals. Any suggestion of “feeding for muscle” would be misleading.
How do I build up a topline to increase muscle in a horse’s back?
The quick answer is a balanced diet (forage and balanced formula) and exercise are required to allow the genetic potential to occur. There isn’t an easy feeding only approach for “feeding for muscle”. That works with cattle only because of decades of science and research with genetic selection for muscling with intramuscular fat. Muscling has been a factor in selecting Q-Horses but it is not the only factor that determines breeding plans and of course has not had the science and research to guide the process as we see in food animals. Any suggestion of “feeding for muscling” would be misleading. If I know more about your work routine (frequency, intensity, etc.) and forage fed I can offer a more specific feeding approach.
I feed my horses alfalfa. Is it safe to add soybean meal for more protein?
No, and I have several concerns. One is that I do not recommend an all alfalfa forage fed to horses. The Feeding Guidelines for Horses fact sheet has detailed information feeding alfalfa hay.
Are there other feeds, perhaps a balanced formula or a vitamin/mineral supplement? Nutrients have a relationship with other nutrients and have a relationship with energy. Hence, the expression “nutrient-calorie ratio” and the importance of feeding a balanced diet.
Feeding excess protein has no advantage and I do not recommend feeding commodities, like in this case, is adding soybean meal. Feeding 100% alfalfa hay and soybean meal will not only be excess protein but will create an unbalanced nutrient-calorie ratio. A horse that consumes more protein than needed will expend more energy to break down the protein so that the nitrogen component can be eliminated in the urine via the kidneys.
There are a couple of studies, although limited in their scope, that suggest excess protein may have an adverse effect on performance. From an academic approach one can reason how the excess dietary nitrogen will adversely influence the energy cycle at the cellular level. Perhaps this is more information than necessary, but there are more many reasons not to feed excess protein.
Are there any products that I can mix to get the right amount of fat, protein, and grain for 3 horses of different ages? I have a 3 year old, 4 year old stallion, and 10 year old horse. Do I have to have a different feed for each horse?
I would need to know more about how each horse is used or worked to make a suggestion. The Integrity product line provides balanced formulas that were developed for all life stages. Adding rice bran or oil to increase the fat level of the diet is one mixing option. Adding fat usually has a positive effect on the nutrient-calorie ratio. The nutrient–calorie ratio is one of the avenues that nutritionist use to evaluate and formulate diets relative to the horse’s requirements.
However, adding different feeds, such as 4-way, an unbalance formula, grains/protein, or a vitamin/mineral supplement to a balanced formula will usually have a negative influence on the nutrient-calorie ratio.
The Integrity Adult/Senior and Timothy are balanced formulas suited for adult horses that are light to moderate work. The 3 year old if being worked/trained would most likely benefit form the Integrity Growth which is higher protein, higher fat, and overall a higher nutrient-calorie ratio.
I understand there are products that are promoted as a “One Feed Fits All” but that’s an approach that is nutritionally unsound and a practice that I do not endorse.
My friend is mixing Star Milling Stock Builder Pellets and Integrity Rice Bran nugget with 4-way and barley. His horses seem to be doing well on it. He has a 2 year old filly and is building up nice. I have a colt that is turning 2 in 2 months. Should I use this nutrition plan too?
I would not recommend it. The “home brew” would not be a balanced blend for required nutrients including minerals and vitamins. Stock Builder is a high protein formula supplemented with vitamins and minerals, however the addition of the commodities, 4-way (corn, barley oats & molasses) and barley, will distort the nutrient-calorie ratio. The stock builder also contains corn and barley; so with the addition of 4-way and added barley translates to a blend that is very high in starch and high in grains that distort the nutrient-calorie ratio relative to the horse’s requirements. This type of feeding is one that may lead to potential growth problems.
I suggest Integrity Growth because it is 15% crude protein and 8.5% crude fat. This balanced formula will complement the forage portion of the horse’s diet.
I have a 4 year old stallion and he gets 4 days of work 30 min each day. Which feed do you recommend for him?
That’s considered light work, so Integrity Adult/Senior would be the best formula. The Integrity Timothy also is an option and is a pellet form. I would need to know more about the horse and the type of work to suggest amounts. For example, you could have a base amount fed each day, and on the days he works, feed more or simply add Integrity Rice Bran to provide additional fat as a fuel source.