Archive for July, 2012
To many horse owners, purchasing hay has become science: Select the type of hay, grab a handful for the smell test, examine it for dust and mold and then feed it to the hungry horse awaiting for you at home. Many hay producers will be, or have already been harvesting hay and have started selling their product to horse owner consumers. But as hay purchasers we must be aware of a tiny, toxic and potentially fatal tagalong in some perfectly healthy-looking alfalfa hay bales – the blister beetle.
Blister beetles are from the Meloidae family so called for their defensive secretion of a blistering agent, cantharidin and come in many sizes, shapes and colours. There are about 7,500 known species worldwide. Cantharidin is a poisonous chemical that causes blistering of the skin and is highly toxic to horses. A few beetles consumed in a single feeding of alfalfa can be lethal.
Blister beetles tend to swarm to feed on alfalfa flowers and simply touching a blister beetle, either dead or alive, is enough to cause inflammation and blistering of a horse’s skin within hours of contact.
If a horse ingests even a few beetles, the insects’ cantharidin can cause ulceration and inflammation of the mouth, stomach and intestines. Clinical signs including decreased appetite, frequent drinking and urination, colic, and depression can be apparent with hours. In the worst case scenario, ingesting these beetles can cause endotoxemia, shock and death within hours of ingestion.
If you suspect your horse has ingested blister beetles, immediately call your vet and most likely you will need to transport your horse to the nearest equine hospital for treatment. There is no specific antidote for blister beetle poisoning. Treatment is solely aimed at reducing absorption of the toxin by administering activated charcoal and mineral oil, intravenous fluids, gastrointestinal protectants and broad spectrum antibiotics.
So, before feeding your horse that bale of alfalfa hay, examine it carefully for the presence of blister beetles.
In my previous post, Hay Forage, What to Look For, I mentioned equine hay testing. It is impossible to know what is needed to balance your horse’s diet without a complete analysis of the hay being fed. Soil fertility, texture and pH, environmental conditions during growth and hay curing, stage of growth when cut, species and variety of the forage, all affect the nutrient content of the forage. As well, mineral content varies between the different forages as well as from one geographic area to another.
Equine researchers are finding links to disease and excessive amounts of carbohydrate fractions in the diet. Orthopedic Development Disease (Glad 1984), laminitis (Longland, 2006), Insulin Resistance (Treiber, 2006), Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy all require minimizing sugar and starch in the diet, so why guess, test your hay!
Many labs cater to the cattle industry, therefore the specific tests offered and the calculations for Digestible Energy and Total Digestible Nutrients are based on the requirements for cattle…not horses. To get the results that you, the horse owner would want, you need to use a lab that offers tests geared specifically for horses. Some labs only do a very fast, minimal kind of testing based on a method called NIR (Near Infrared Reflectance.) A word of caution: This will not give you information about trace minerals and may not be accurate for the sugar or starch content in the hay as well.
What are the tests that will be most useful to you, the horse owner?
Crude Protein (CP): This really isn’t a test for protein, but a test for the nitrogen content. Nitrogen has a set ratio in forage protein, they multiply the N content by 6.25 to get the percentage “crude” protein. This is accurate most of the time except when the hay might have high levels of nitrate, example hay grown under drought conditions, over fertilized or subjected to frost. If the CP looks too good to be true, well, you know the saying, if it is too good to be true, it’s not. Call the lab and request a nitrate test.
Sugar and Starch: This test is relatively new to the forage testing industry and only a few labs offer it. Many horses are just fine eating larger amounts of sugar, but if you have a horse with a metabolic condition, this component is a very important part of your hay test. Water Soluble Carbs (WSC) will include sugar and all the fructans. Ethanol Soluble Carbohydrates (ESC) include sugars and the shorter chain fructans. If cost is a concern for you, test just for sugar content and skip the starch unless you are feeding a Bermuda or another tropical grass hay where the starch content can be high.
Minerals: Calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg), Sodium (Na) are all needed in large amounts and are usually reported as a percentage. Generally all hay tests include major minerals.
Trace Minerals: Iron (Fe), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), Sulfur (S) are minerals needed in mg per day and are usually reported as PPM (Parts Per Million). These sometimes are not included in the cheaper tests but are necessary in maintaining optimum health. Trace minerals are commonly deficient and are important in the body. Copper and zinc deficiency shows as a rough, dry hair coat or poor hoof texture.
Selenium is another important nutrient. But it’s worth noting that blood tests (about $12) for selenium concentration are reliable and may be more cost effective than testing for hay (about $30). But some people would rather have everything on one sheet of paper.
Test for aluminum if you live in a high acidic soil area. Cobalt, an essential component of vitamin B-12 may be lacking in some areas as well, so this may be a test worth considering.
When your hay results are received, you need to figure out what your horse is eating (hay, grain, etc) and compare it to what your horse needs and the difference is what you need to supplement, so some math calculations are required or you can hire an equine nutritionist to do the hay testing and calculations for you.
By: Larissa Cox
We all know that it is very important to provide our horses with the best quality forage available as this is their primary source of nutrition. Forage quality refers to a forage’s potential to meet the nutritional needs of a particular animal. For example, a hay that meets all the nutritional needs of a lactating dairy cow, would not meet the nutritional needs of a pleasure horse. Make sure to keep the needs of your horse in mind when evaluating forage quality.
The stage of maturity at harvest plays a major role in determining the quality of a hay. Early in the growing season, forage plants move into their vegetative stage, which is characterized by leafy growth containing high concentrations of starches, sugars, proteins and minerals. As the growing season progresses, plants enter the reproductive stages which is characterized by elongated stems and developing seed heads. The dry matter in these plants has a lower proportion of nutrients and higher plant fiber. The greater the fiber content of hay, the less digestible it is. Ideally, the best hays would contain a high proportion of leaves and few deed heads or stems.
The quality of hay also depends on how the hay was harvested, handled and stored. To preserve the nutrient value, hay should cure in dry, sunny weather as quickly as possible. Once it is at the proper moisture content (15-18%), it should be taken from the field and stored properly. Hay not harvested and stored under ideal conditions may lose nutrients or get moldy.
Weeds in the hay have a very poor feed value while some are even toxic to horses. Remember that high quality hay comes from healthy forage stands with few or no weeds. Foreign objects such as trash, rocks may pose a threat to horse health, so high quality hay must be free of any foreign material.
Forage species also play a very important role in hay quality. For example, Timothy grass matures later in the growing season allowing it to be harvested at the right stage of maturity. Second or third hay cuttings have little stem or seed head development making these of a higher quality hay product.
When buying your hay, you can get a general sense of quality just by looking at it. A high quality hay will have a high proportion of leaves in the bale, with few or no coarse stems or seed heads. Higher quality hay will contain little or no dust or mold. Bright green color and a sweet, fresh odor is a good characteristic of higher hay quality. If the hay you are looking at is brown or has a bleached appearance, this generally denotes a lower quality. And remember, that they hay you buy should be free of foreign objects such as trash, sticks tree leaves, and weeds). Also lookout for any poisonous plant species in the bale.
While a visual appraisal will help you with the identification of poorer quality hay, it won’t help you at all in assessing its feed value. This needs to be done at a lab. When purchasing hay, most reputable dealers will have feed analyses available or will be willing to submit a sample for hay analysis. Remember, however, that when requesting hay analysis, you request for equine testing. A typical equine hay analysis would include moisture, dry matter, digestible energy, crude protein, acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, Ethanol Soluble Carbohydrates (ESC), Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC), starch, non fiber carbohydrates (NFC), calcium and phosphorus.
Proper sampling is necessary to provide an accurate representation of your hay. When in doubt, contact your equine nutritionist for help.
Now that Insulin Resistance has become the “talk of the day,” the equine market has exploded with low carb feeds and supplements to fix or cure this condition. Don’t believe it! Firstly, understand that Insulin Resistance (IR) is not a disease, but a “metabolic type”. The main goal for the IR Horse is no laminitis and to keep bloodwork as close to normal as possible, if not completely normal. This is done by a lifestyle change, one that horse owners must be committed to and also know that there is no magic bullet cure.
Unfortunately, feed companies have conditioned us to think of our horses’ nutrition only in terms of what is inside the feed bag. What is missing in the horse owner’s education is the knowledge that hay, which is not just fiber, is the single largest source of nutrients in the horse’s diet and that the main goal is to feed a slow, sustained release of these nutrients ALL DAY LONG with absolutely no periods of fasting. This may be easier said than done, especially if your horse is boarded. Eating hay is essential in the prevention of laminitis.
The importance of hay: Hay provides the fiber to steady Glucose levels. Hay also provides an excellent activity for your horse (as they eat 70 – 80% of the day). Hay decreases stress which in turn can steady hormones. Hay stimulates gut tone and motility. If your horse has fasted several hours and then is fed, he can get an Insulin surge beyond the normal which can be harmful…remember, we want the slow, constant, low level of hay moving through his system all day long.
As a side note on Fiber, also a Carbohydrate, requires the bacteria of the large intestine to break it down. The sugar/starch Carbohydrates go into the bloodstream at the small intestine where as the Fiber rolls past the small intestine and goes down the tract to the large intestine. There are two types of Fiber, soluble fiber which requires bacteria break it down with the nutrients absorbed, and insoluble fiber. Fiber is very important as it creates a sensation of fullness as it is not digested at the small intestine level, so your horse eats less due to not being as hungry. As mentioned above, it assists in slow, steady delivery of Glucose to the small intestine due to its bulk which slows the release out of stomach of sugars. This soluble fiber can account for 50% of the energy needs of your horse. Hay and beet pulp have excellent amounts of fiber with hay at about 30% and beet pulp about 20%.
Testing Terms: NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) has been used by feed companies to categorize low carbohydrate feeds of about 10-15% NSC. When you test your hay or fresh grass today, you will not see NSC listed any more due to recent changes in the way sugars are categorized. The new category for sugar content of hay/fresh grass is called ESC (ethanol soluble carbohydrate, also called Simple Sugars), referring to sugars and a partial amount of fructans. Know that NSC is not ESC and that past sugar tests cannot compare to current tests.
What Hay Do I Feed? Timothy Grass Hay is a very good choice, and generally easy to acquire. When tested, you want 8-12% protein, low end of normal range of ESC (4.7-10.9%), and low end of normal range of starch (1.5-4%). As an example, if the hay test shows 15% ESC and 6% starch, do not buy it as it’s a probable laminitis trigger. If the test shows 5.7% ESC and 1.8% starch, it’s okay to buy it and there is no need to soak.
Contrary to popular believe Alfalfa Hay is a very good choice. Alfalfa actually has lower ESC, starch, and sugar than Timothy Hay. If someone tells you Alfalfa is a problem in Insulin Resistant horses, they do not have the facts. ESC is generally 4.2-8.2% and starch is around 0.8-3.2%. If your horse is sensitive to Alfalfa and gets runny stools, mix 50:50 Timothy/Alfalfa.
Another solid hay choice is Orchard Grass Hay which is very similar to Timothy Grass Hay.
Bermuda or “Coastal” Hay has double the starch of Orchard or Timothy, so you would need to soak these hays before feeding to your horses. The starch averages 6% (range 3.1-9.0). So if possible, Timothy, Orchard, Timothy/Alfalfa, Orchard/Alfalfa are far better choices.
Totally avoid Wheat hay, Oat hay, Barley hay as these are all very bad with very high starch levels.
Many horse owners with IR horses stop feeding grain to their horses. This is completely wrong as an all-hay diet could lead to problems due to vitamin, micro nutrient deficiency. If you have been told that the best way to avoid laminitis in your insulin-resistant horse is to feed it only hay and keep it on a dirt lot, you have been given incorrect information. The goal is some grass, some hay, some grain and some snacks. You want a low ESC pellet feed with a high amount of protein which will provide the vitamins and micro nutrients for your horse. These feeds are very concentrated, so you will only need to feed a small amount to your horse each day. Normal horses can get up to 1% of body weight in grain a day for maintenance: 10 pounds of grain in a 1,000 pound horse. With a low ESC concentrated feed, that same horse gets only 1 pound a day. Please note that not all low ESC/low carb pellet feeds on the market today are good for an Insulin Resistant horse because some may also have a high fat quantity. You want a low carbohydrate (low ESC), high protein (24 – 32%), and low fat diet. High protein means more muscle and the muscles are the biggest users of insulin which helps lower blood glucose. High protein also helps increase magnesium absorption which is very important as it helps lower insulin. High protein diets lower glucose uptake in the intestine which in turn decreases insulin surges.
Equine Insulin Resistance puts your horse on the edge of a cliff and any form of stress can push them off that edge into laminitis. By being proactive and incorporating grass intake management, hay testing and regulating feeding of grain and snacks, you guide them away from the edge into a healthy lifestyle.
Be careful feeding fat to an IR horse! In a 2002 study by the University of Kentucky’s Department of Veterinary Science showed that an infusion of fat actually induced Insulin Resistance in horses in less than 2 hours time. This can lead to a laminitis trigger. High fat diets can cause a crisis. High Insulin levels already are promoting fat which in turn releases toxins to further cause more and more Insulin. This cycle is not helped by promoting more fat with a high fat diet, so be sure to check your feed bag labels! Please note: Some fats, such as Omega 3 Fatty Acids can actually have benefits for IR horses when fed therapeutically in the diet. Please consult your equine nutritionist before starting a therapeutic feeding regime with integrated fats for your horse.
Also no Rice Bran. In an 1994 Rice Science Study, rice bran is approximately 16% fat. This is going to promote fat on your horse, add weight, and cause problems. Rice bran is also high in starch, approximately 5 to 7 times more than timothy/orchard hay or beet pulp. More importantly, rice bran has an ESC level of about 25.
Giving snacks to your horse as a treat or just because is important, so we need to know what are the safe snacks. Some excellent choices are roasted peanuts in the shell, Soy Pulp, Strawberries, Cherries without the pits, Pumpkin seeds, Sugar-free candy for diabetics, Beet Pulp with no molasses added, and Alfalfa pellets. Alfalfa pellets have an added bonus of helping to prevent stomach ulcers due to its buffering ability. Another good snack selection is celery which has a very low glycemic index of 1 and only 1% carbs with very high fiber.
Both oral glucosamine and injectable (N-acetyl glucosamine) from compounding pharmacies should be AVOIDED for the IR horse. Many studies are showing that glucosamine can induce peripheral insuline resistance (Diabetes Journal 1996) (J. Clinical Investigations 1995), and results in the reduction of the blood flow rate as well as the uptake of glucose (Diabetes Journal 2000) (Mayo Clinic 2007) (Harvard Medical School 2007). As a word of caution when feeding joint supplements to your horses, look at the label and if it has “Flex”, “Joint”, “Gluco” or “Glyco B” avoid these products. It’s strange that many products out there to treat laminitis contain glucosamine. Use only Chondroitin and MSM. Adequan contains no Glucosamine, so it’s fine to use.
So, remember the goal is to control carbohydrate metabolism by having your horse eating the right foods in the proper amounts to help your horse live a good, happy life!
For information on the nutritional needs of your horse, contact Aequus-therapy.com.