Protein is one of my favorite nutrients! It is so important that our horses get sufficient amounts of quality protein everyday. We see the first hand effects of protein intake when our horses build muscle and become more athletic, but even more importantly, this nutrient feeds the cells in our horses to help them develop, maintain function, and heal. With this in mind, I have delighted in exploring the ins and outs of this nutrient and can’t wait to share the lowdown on protein!
How Much is Enough?
This is the golden question really; we see so many protein supplements on the shelves, and we love alfalfa because of its high protein reputation. If we look at the feed tag on a concentrate formula, most of the time there will be between 10 and 14% protein. So when do we have enough?
For an overview of nutritional content, I highly recommend the National Research Council’s “Nutrient Requirements for Horses”. It clearly breaks down a horse’s nutritional needs, overviews ingredients, and offers easy to understand charts for nutrient requirements. According to this publication, adult working horses should receive between 850- and 1300 grams of crude protein per day.
Speaking in averages and in feed, a 16 hand horse in medium to heavy work could meet his crude protein requirement with about 14 lbs (as fed) of mid maturity alfalfa mix hay. The key here is that many management programs don’t feed this quality of hay consistently. While this much legume-mix is wonderful and a great source of protein, it is expensive, and often too high in energy (Mega-calories) for an average horse.
Ergo, we supplement with concentrate. 1000 grams of protein can also be found in 20 lbs of a 12% crude protein concentrate formula. HOLD UP, that means 20 lbs of grain everyday. This is why good quality hay is so important to meet our horses’ protein needs. To meet the crude protein needs of a 1200 lb horse in medium to heavy work, the combination of good quality hay and a well balanced concentrate formula will usually do the trick!
It’s NOT All the Same
Crude protein value is a measurement of the overall protein content in a feed stuff. Crude protein value does not measure quality, but our horse’s digestive tracts certainly do! I like to think of quality as the test that the horse puts protein to. The test has two questions.
Can it be broken up into Amino Acids with Biological Enzymes?
For a horse to have access to the amino acids provided by nutritional protein, they must be digested (or broken down from protein to amino acids) in the stomach & small intestine. These sites are where biological enzymes actively support protein digestion. If the protein is not broken down at these sites, it moves to the large intestine, where microbes break down the protein. While this is not necessarily harmful to the horse, microbes will not produce bio-available amino acids but instead use the protein for their own nutrition.
Good quality protein is digested in the fore-gut
Is there a sufficient balance in the resulting amino acids so the horse can use them efficiently?
Now that protein has been broken down to amino acids and absorbed in the blood, it needs to reach the cells and be restructured into proteins that are useful to the horse. The catch is that if the nutritional protein is not comprised of the amino acids that the horse needs, the amino acids cannot restructure to biological proteins. For instance, if a feed stuff is 12% crude protein but lacks in lysine, lysine will be the limiting factor that prevents efficient use of all the other available amino acids.
In order to get purple, you need 1 red & 1 blue, not 2 blues
Quality Protein Sources
- Whole Soybeans
- Whole Flax Seed
- Alfalfa Meal
- Legume based Forage
- Supplemental Lysine, Threonine, & Methionine Source
- Bio Active Whey