Understanding Amino Acids in Your Horse’s Diet

As you may know, proteins are substances constructed of amino acids. Your horse is actually made up of different protein compounds, especially in the hair, hooves, muscle tissue, and blood.

While your horse is not only made up of proteins, it also needs proteins to live a healthy life. Some amino acids the animal can make on its own while others need to be ingested via the horse’s feed.

Experts have found that certain amino acids are woefully underfed to the average horse, namely lysine. The good news is the fact that if your horse receives sufficient lysine in its diet, it also receives sufficient protein all the way round.

While some horse owners make the mistake of equating protein percentages with lysine content, it is quite sobering to realize that the protein contained in your horse’s feed may not necessarily contain sufficient levels of lysine. Hence, it is not so much the percentage that counts as is the quality of the protein source the feed names.

It has been found that soybean meal as a protein source is much richer in lysine than cottonseed meal, which is the most common protein source for horse feed. Soybean meal is also superior to alfalfa, which might come as a bit of a shock to those who swear by the hay.

Obviously you do not want to completely base your horse’s nutrition on soybean meal alone, yet as a part of a balanced nutritional regimen it is a most valuable ingredient. Of course, your job of providing a good nutritional protocol has been made considerably easier by the ability to supplement amino acids to the feed.

Thus, lysine and methionine can now be added to the feed you are already feeding. Nonetheless, since you do want to ensure that the feed you are offering is of the highest quality make sure that you check the lysine content on the feed bags of the more reputable manufacturers.

The importance of label reading is driven home by the point that a supplemented feed which may contain 12 percent protein may contain as much lysine a feed that contains 14 percent of protein. In addition to the foregoing, be careful of accepting the term “balanced nutrition” at face value.

It has been discovered that this term balanced may refer to as little as an excess of calcium when compared to the phosphorus levels in the feed.

The need for balanced lysine, protein and raw energy levels is just as crucial. Add to this the need for the presence of certain vitamins, and you can very easily see how quickly a horse may experience nutritional deficiencies, if it is simply eating until it receives enough energy, but does not ingest sufficient proteins – especially lysine – during the same sitting.

If you observe your horse lacking stamina and evidencing hooves, hair and skin of substandard quality, you might actually be facing a horse that is not taking in enough protein. On the other hand, if the horse is slimmer than would be healthy, looks good but does not have as much endurance as you think it should, and additionally urinates too often, you are probably looking at a horse that is taking in too much protein but not enough energy. Obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect diet.

Not even on paper is this feat accomplished, much less in the reality of the stable. The foregoing not withstanding, it is critical that you strive to provide your animal with a diet as balanced as you can possible achieve it. Thus, if you are uncertain whether or not your animal ingests enough protein, it is advisable to err on the side of caution and supply more protein.

The same cannot be said for energy. Obviously, you do not want to consciously over feed protein either, especially when your horse shows no signs of suffering from a protein deficiency. For example, horse owners should think twice before feeding only alfalfa hay as the sole source of forage.

While this is standard practice in some circles, the percentage of protein to energy is too high, even though the horse may look great, it will perform less than adequate. If you are not certain whether or not your feed is sufficient with respect to nutritional performance, consider that an overall adequate intake will contain of forage that may offer seven to 14 percent of protein and a feed with amino acids supplemented.

You will want to ensure that you choose a feed that is specially formulated for the stage of life your horse is in.

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