Protein requirements of horses.
All life processes are dependent on protein which is involved in the structure and formation of all living cells. Protein forms the skin, hair, muscle, connective tissue, hooves, nervous system and much of the horse's skeleton.

Protein builds muscle, not fat. It strengthens bone and maintains body condition under stress. Protein is essential for the repair and rebuilding of soft tissue and damaged muscles.

It should be clearly recognised that a deficiency of protein will do more to depress growth rate (and lactation) than almost any other single nutrient.

In the case of racehorses and other high performance horses, a high level protein intake (especially in early life) is necessary to develop muscle strength, stamina and sound strong bones.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Different protein sources contain different amino acid levels; and it's for this reason that a mixture of protein sources is normally included in a horse's ration. A correct amino acid balance is the key to efficient utilization of dietary protein.

Protein quality is determined by its level of essential amino acids. A horse will only utilize its dietary protein up to the lowest level of the limiting amino acid. A shortage of any one essential amino acid makes overall protein utilization by the horse less efficient. The two most limiting amino acids in protein feeds for horses are Lysine and Methionine.

Don't confuse protein feeds with energy feeds.

The most common forms of protein fed to horses are cottonseed meal, soyabean meal, sunflower (seeds or meal), faba beans (tick beans), linseed (meal or boiled seeds) and skim milk powder. In the human diet these would be translated into meat, fish, avocados, eggs and dairy products.

The cereal grain component in a horse ration (i.e. oats, corn, barley) are very poor sources of protein and their primary function is to provide the "fuel' for energy and body warmth. Molasses, glucose and rice also fall into the energy feed category.

Protein on the breeding farm.

All horses, regardless of their age, require adequate amounts of dietary protein for body maintenance, growth, lactation and work. The protein supplied must be of high quality. The requirements for growth, pregnancy and lactation are the greatest and most critical.

Protein is very often the most underestimated and misunderstood element in a horse's diet, and this is particularly so on breeding farms. As pointed out earlier, a deficiency of protein will do more to depress growth rate than almost any other single nutrient.

Young growing horses

The average horse has the greatest potential for growth at a very young age and if adequate dietary protein is not available, optimum growth will not be achieved.

It should also be remembered that a young horse can have all the minerals in the world in its diet but if that diet is deficient in high quality protein, then weak bones will result.

Pregnant mares

In the last 3 months of pregnancy the foetus virtually doubles in size (approximately two-thirds of foetal growth occurs in this period) and a mare's requirements for protein (and minerals) increases dramatically.

Failure to provide adequate nutrition for the pregnant mare can have profound and possibly irreversible effects on the unborn foetus. In fact, many of the bone ailments that plague breeders and trainers (e.g. spavins, splints, sprains, ring-bone) are the tragic result of improper skeletal development during the foetal and early growth stages.

Lactating mares

As is the case with humans, an increase in dietary protein increases a mare's milk yield and milk quality - and better milk builds a better foal.

Stallions at stud

Invariably, stud stallions are housed in a very confined environment where exercise is limited, and this fact coupled with poorly balanced rations (too much grain) can lead to over-fat horses and bone and foot problems. Stallions, especially during the non-breeding season, should be fed a high roughage/high protein/LOW energy ration.

Protein in the racing stable.

Young racehorses

Dietary factors (protein in particular) play a highly significant role in influencing the process of early maturation and soundness. The stronger and more physically mature a young horse is when it enters the racing stable, the greater its chances of success will be in early 2 year old races.

On the other hand, if a young horse is still physically immature when its training commences, it will not cope with the stress of work and the simultaneous demands of rapid growth. Significant weight loss will occur, forcing the horse to be spelled.

Racehorses generally

To perform at its peak the racehorse, just like the human athlete, needs careful conditioning and the right dietary ingredients in order to build muscle strength and stamina. These days, modem sports science dictates that human athletes receive a diet which is high in protein, rich in readily available energy and which is fortified and balanced with vitamins and minerals.

Highly strung and highly stressed racehorses need special rations just as human athletes do, and for the same reasons. The younger the horse the more acute is its need. This calls for a properly balanced ration which is high in protein, rich in readily available energy and fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.

A high quality protein intake ensures necessary repair, building and re-building of soft tissue and muscle in the racing and high performance animal.

Muscle power.

Physical strength comes primarily from the muscles, and to build muscles a high quality protein intake is essential.

Protein-rich feeds, and exercise, are known to cause a muscle-building effect by stimulating the release of the hormones concerned with the uptake of amino acids by the body's cells. Potentially, the more amino acids are taken up, the more protein is produced - and the more protein is produced, the more muscle is laid down.

Maintaining the body under stress.

Mother Nature never intended horses in their natural environment to be subjected to the intense physical stress of training and competition that is the lot of today's high performance horses, especially two-year-olds.

The physical stress of training has been shown to significantly increase the breakdown of protein (and tissue) in the horse's body, and this necessitates an increase in dietary protein if body condition is to be maintained.

Spelling and convalescing horses.

When horses are sent out to recuperate, they are not sent out to get fat. For this reason the carbohydrate (grain/energy sources) content of their ration should not be excessive. The protein content however should be high if a tired or injured body is to be rejuvenated.

If their diet is protein deficient, spelling and convalescing horses cannot build any new body tissue, including new blood; nor can they build the enzymes so critical for all body functions.

Protein: an overview.

Around 90% of the remodelling (and therefore strengthening) of growing bone occurs between the time a horse is born and when it is two years of age. High quality protein is essential for bone strength.

In order to reach optimum size and development as early as possible, all aspects of nutrition (especially protein and minerals) from the womb to racing have to be considered.

In the rearing of sound young horses, exercise, environment and climatic conditions must also be considered. Young horses reared in small flat paddocks will not get the exercise needed to stimulate bone strength.

Growth is the very foundation of horse production. This is so because horses cannot perform properly or possess the necessary speed and endurance if their growth has been stunted or their skeletons have been injured by inadequate nutrition in their early, formative years. Feeding rations that are high in energy (oats, corn, etc.) but inadequate in Protein and minerals will produce fat horses with poor skeletal development, which usually results in unsoundness. These primary manifestations of protein insufficiency are poor growth and poor lactation.

Heredity predetermines the maximum possible size and optimum possible performance of a horse. However, diet, environment and training determine how close to these criteria a horse will reach.

Protein utilization.

A correct amino acid balance is the key to efficient utilization of protein. For example; if a protein supplement with a crude protein rating of say 36 % provides only half the necessary methionine (one of the 10 essential amino acids) then that protein supplement provides only 18 % utilisable protein to the horse.

For maximum protein utilisation (and minimum protein waste), a horse needs a scientific combination of essential amino acids designed to make all the protein present in its ration into utilizable protein.

We have developed such scientific combinations, namely Ranvet 500 for studhorses at pasture and Pro Mix / Power Formula for stabled horses.

Ranvet pioneered amino acid supplements for horses.

One of our most significant achievements in the field of equine nutrition has been the successful education of breeders and trainers to the vital role that high quality protein plays in their horses' diets.

The company pioneered amino acid supplementation for horses, and our research in this area goes back as far as 1964.

During this period our efforts were concentrated on

(a) determining precisely what levels of the amino acids Lysine and Methionine were required in order to achieve maximum utilization of dietary protein, and

(b) solving the great palatability problem associated with these two highly distasteful amino acids. Four unique products have resulted from this research.

Pro Mix, Ranvet's amino acid fortified Protein Concentrate for horses in work, provides a high quality protein intake so essential for muscle development, strength and stamina, sound bone structures and for the repair and rebuilding of damaged muscles and soft tissue.

Ranvet 500 have been specifically formulated to provide the levels of protein required for proper foetal growth and skeletal development, and to improve a mare's milk quality. It improves bone size and strength, growth rates and the overall physical development of foals, weanlings and yearlings. Ranvet 500 are equally beneficial for immature young two-year-olds, helping them cope with the simultaneous demands of training and growth.

Feeding programmes for high performance horses.

Ranvet Pty. Ltd. have specially prepared feeding programmes for stud horses, racehorses, pacers and trotters, and other competition horses. Contact us for your free copy or view and print online here.

Feeding for early maturity and soundness.

Ranvet's search for a scientifically based feeding regime which would result in. sound, very mature young racehorses involved 2 years of intensive field research. In the course of this research the milk from over 1,000 mares was analysed and assessed. Foals were weighed at birth, and then at regular monthly intervals right up until they were 450-460 days old. Weight gains were carefully assessed. All the young horses from our advanced trials recorded an average daily weight gain in excess of one kilogram, which was very impressive and quite significant.

During these same trials, over 1,000 blood analyses were done on mares and their foals.

"Feeding for Early Maturity and Soundness---is the subject of a most comprehensive document on RanfacC. It is also the title of a 12-minute video presentation. Contact us for further information.

These Ranvet supplements provide you with the basis for early maturity and soundness.

Dietary factors were found to have a very significant effect on early maturity.

During the second year of our trials it quickly became very obvious that dietary factors play a most significant role in influencing the process of early maturation, and that a horse's specific nutritional requirements must be catered for right from the foetal stage, especially in the last quarter of gestation, and continued right through from the foal stage to the weanling and yearling stages.

Improving mares' milk quality, the early introduction of a suitably formulated creep feed, early weaning, all play an important part in overall production of a more mature yearling.

Proper exercise in good sized paddocks and the avoidance of sudden growth surges and growth checks, particularly in cold weather, all contribute to the overall soundness of the young racehorse.

Need help? contact Ranvet

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