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High Fat Diets for Horses
High Fat Diets for Horses
October 28, 2014
Dr. Robert A. Mowrey, Extension Horse Husbandry Specialist
Recent research has demonstrated the effectiveness of high-fat diets for horses. Although such diets may be bad for humans, fat is an important, safe and efficient energy source for horses. This article will clarify how to take advantage of recent research findings on high-fat diets.
On high-fat diets, horses perform longer without fatiguing, incur fewer injuries, and maintain body weight with less grain intake, while maximizing forage intake. Adding fat to a horse’s diet permits safe weight gain while reducing the chance of colic or founder; it may also allow lactating mares to breed back more quickly.
Digestion of fat yields less internal body heat when compared to high carbohydrate or protein diets. Most importantly, perhaps, high-fat diets enable horses in high-performance situations -- for example while pregnant, lactating or working at moderate and intense levels -- to more efficiently and safely meet their high energy requirements. Unfortunately, the horse’s relatively small digestive tract limits the total volume of feed it can consume.
As a result, horses requiring high-energy intake must be fed an energy-dense concentrate mix. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by increasing the concentrate (high-energy) portion of the diet while limiting forage intake. Forages, such as hay and pasture, are more fibrous and lower in energy than the grains found in concentrate mixes.
Under ideal management conditions, a horse should consume no less than 50 percent of its daily intake in the form of forage. Horses that are “hard keepers” and maintain low body fat reserves typically require greater than a 50 percent daily intake of concentrates to maintain their body weight during high-production situations. Unfortunately, the replacement of forage with high-starch concentrates in levels greater then 50 percent of the total diet negatively affects the pH and activity of the digestive microbes found in the horse’s cecum and large intestine. The net effect is an increased incidence of founder and colic.
Since fat contains 2.25 times more energy than either carbohydrates or protein, increasing the fat level of the diet is the easiest and safest way to increase the energy density of the diet. Higher energy levels can be obtained by feeding fewer pounds of a high-fat concentrate mix, compared to a concentrate mix containing lower-energy carbohydrates.
Farm grains, such as corn and oats, are high in carbohydrates but fairly low in fat. High-fat sources such as soybean oil, corn oil and animal fat contain three times more energy than grains on an equal volume basis.
Research has indicated that adding 5 percent to 10 percent fat to the total diet has maintained the body weight of horses with a 21 percent to 25 percent decrease in concentrate intake.
Source: Extension - America´s Research-based Learning Network