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Beet Pulp – an Alternative Dietary Energy Source for Horses
Horse owners with “hard keepers” are commonly told to add beet pulp to daily rations to put weight onto their skinny horses. Why would feeding beet pulp, an innocuous looking feedstuff, add equine pounds? Wouldn’t a high energy cereal grain mix like COB (corn-oats-barley) be a better choice to improve weight gain in horses?
Beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar industry and can be found in either shredded or pelleted forms. After the sugar is extracted from beets, the remaining pulp is further pressed and dried for use as animal feed. Nearly all of the sugar is removed during the extraction process and what remains is a highly digestible form of fiber with an energy content between hays and grains (see Table 1). Since 30 – 70% of a horse’s daily digestible energy requirements can be met by fiber, beet pulp is an important dietary energy source.
While the energy content of beet pulp is similar to cereal grains, it is a safer energy source, especially for horses that are sensitive to dietary sugar levels. Because energy is released slowly, beet pulp is often recommended for hot, excitable horses, or horses prone to laminitis. In addition, the high fiber content of beet pulp helps maintain digestive tract health and also reduces the likelihood of grain overload.
Balancing a Simple Diet using a Pearson's Square
Feeding a balanced diet is essential to an animal’s growth, production, and performance. But, how do you know if you are feeding the correct amount to meet your animal’s requirements? First, you must know your animal’s requirements. These are available in publications by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science where years of scientific research have been compiled by nutrition experts into comprehensive nutrient requirements for many animal species at most physiological states. Second, you must know the nutrient composition of your feeds. Once you know these two things, you can determine how much of each feed you will need to give your animal each day to meet its requirements.
Pasture Turnout during Periods of Exercise Layoff Helps to Maintain Equine Fitness
Weather conditions or injury often puts an end to riding and training for many horses. No matter the reason for exercise layoff, what does the end of scheduled exercise mean to the fitness level of horses? Low exercise intensity often leads to loss of muscle mass and bone density, as well as decreases in measures of aerobic capacity. Furthermore, horses on complete stall rest may experience even greater losses of fitness. Certainly these losses would delay the return to training and affect progress. However, the voluntary exercise associated with complete (24-hour) pasture turnout may offset fitness losses during periods of layoff.
Soaking Hay for Short Durations Can Help Tailor Nutrient Composition
Soaking hay in water is a common strategy to manage the diets of horses with various health conditions. Horses with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; also known as heaves) are sensitive to dust. For this reason, soaking hay in water for about 30 minutes helps to reduce the prevalence of dust particles and can be subsequently fed to horses with respiratory issues.
Horses with laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), equine pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID; also known as equine Cushing’s disease), or polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) are very sensitive to dietary intake of sugars, such as non-structural carbohydrates (NSC). Diets high in NSC can exacerbate laminitis and aggravate muscle pain in horses with PSSM. We have discussed in a previous blog how soaking cool-season grass hays in water effectively lowers NSC, rendering them as more suitable hays that can be fed to sugar-sensitive horses.
Performance Horses Can Be Fed a High-Energy Forage-Only Diet
A horse’s digestive tract is physiologically adapted to continuous intake of a forage-only diet. However, horses are oftentimes fed diets that contain a large percentage of cereal grain-based, high-starch supplements. This is especially true in the case of performance horses that have high energy requirements. These diets typically consist of hay harvested at later stages of maturity that is low in energy and must therefore be supplemented with energy-dense concentrates, sometimes up to 40% of the diet. In contrast, high producing dairy cows are fed hay that is cut at earlier stages of growth and hence contain more energy. Since fiber in forages is broken down into energy-yielding substrates following fermentation by microbes in the equine hindgut, it is conceivable that horses performing at high levels may suffer no ill effects when fed forage-only diets.
Old man winter is knocking on the door. Nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping, and snow is in the forecast. Are you and your horse ready for winter? You should be prepared to meet your horse’s needs for nutrition, health care, and shelter.
The horse is one of the most efficient runners in the animal kingdom. A horse’s heart and lung capacity are about two times larger than those of other animals with similar mature body weights. The Thoroughbred racehorse has the largest and most efficient heart due to genetics and also to conditioning by training. While the average Thoroughbred heart weighs between 8 and 10 pounds, some elite racehorses have hearts that weigh twice as much. Secretariat, perhaps the greatest racehorse of all time, had a heart that was estimated to weigh at least 22 pounds1! A larger heart pumps more blood and delivers more oxygen to muscles, resulting in greater stamina and capacity for exercise. Furthermore, horses have huge spleens, which are organs that store red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to muscles and other organs. When a horse starts running, abdominal muscles contract and squeeze the spleen. The resultant spike of red blood cells and oxygen in the circulation allows the horse to run at top speeds from a virtual standstill.
There is no question that high quality forage generates greater paid premiums for alfalfa hay growers. Superior quality alfalfa hay fed to livestock also promotes maximum returns in milk and meat production. Alfalfa hay quality is directly correlated to age and maturity of a field at harvest because nutrient composition quality declines as the forage matures. Total tonnage yields are highest when hay is fully matured; however, nutritional value and digestibility decrease as the leaf-to-stem ratio increases with plant growth. Crude protein (CP) levels decrease as alfalfa ages, while fibrous components such as neutral and acid detergent fibers increase (Figure 1).
Producing a halter horse with perfect conformation is a goal of many horse breeders, including breeders of American Quarter Horses. The ideal stock horse has a refined head with a clean throatlatch, a long neck that ties into prominent withers, and a compact yet smooth, muscular body with a strong back, wide loins, and long hip.
Throughout this year’s Alfalfa, Timothy and Straw harvests, weather has presented numerous challenges to each crop and cutting. The unique difficulties experienced this year have required our harvest crews, buying staff, and sales team to adjust quickly and be flexible.
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