Discover the Multiple Benefits of Feeding a Fat Supplement
Adding fat to the horse's feed has been common practice in many barns to support hair and coat condition. But fat in the equine diet provides far more benefits than just extra shine.
Today’s horse owners have the option of using high-fat feeds as well as fat supplements, and there are several situations where adding fat calories can be advantageous.
Hard-working performance horses can benefit from the addition of a fat supplement to the diet to supply energy. In addition, a fat supplement can also help maintain an older horse’s condition and provide valuable added calories for a thin horse.
“Fat can readily provide calories to geriatric horses. Because fat is a concentrated and readily available source of calories, it’s easier to utilize by senior horses who may be more challenged at extracting calories from their feed,” says Randel Raub, PhD, an equine nutritionist whose consulting business, Equine Nutrition Innovation LLC, is based in Minnesota.
A fat supplement can also benefit horses who need calories in addition to forage when increased grain isn’t a recommended option.
Avoiding Digestive Disturbances
Although many people feed their horses the same way they feed their dogs and cats — twice a day — the equine digestive system isn’t designed for “meal feeding.” Horses are meant to eat throughout the day, primarily on forage (hay, grass or a combination of both). Unfortunately, domestic horses are often given large amounts of food at one time and then go for hours with nothing to eat, which can be problematic.
“A large amount of grain in a single feeding can overload the digestive system and is never a good deal,” says Raub. When a horse is fed too much grain at one time, the result can be excessive fermentation and gas, which can lead to digestive issues. It can also cause a drop in his pH level, causing increased acidity, potentially leading to other digestive upsets.
A good rule to follow is don’t feed grain equivalent to more than 0.5 percent of the horse’s body weight per meal. For a 1,000-pound horse, this means no more than five pounds of grain per feeding. This might require dividing grain into three equally spaced feedings instead of two. On the other hand, that same 1,000-pound horse requires a minimum of 10 pounds of forage per day (and quite possibly more) to maintain good gut health, weight and body condition.
Good-quality forage should be the foundation of every horse’s feeding program, but many horses need more calories and nutrition than what’s provided by forage alone. Supplementing the equine diet with fat is a proven solution.
“Fat has two and a quarter times the energy of carbohydrates, because it’s a concentrated source of calories,” says Raub. “Adding fat to the diet allows you to back down on grain and increases the safety buffer against grain overload and the associated negative consequences. For horses with high energy demands who burn a lot of calories, fat can provide this in a concentrated form.
“Fat is an incredibly calorie-dense feed and the reason this is important is because feeding fat allows you to feed less grain concentrate. The less grain concentrate you have to feed allows for more of the forage part of the diet to be fed and the more of the horse’s diet that is forage the better.”
Sources of Fat
When you’re looking for the best way to add fat to your horse’s diet, it helps to understand that not all fat is created equal.
“It’s important to balance the calories from fat with other nutrients,” Raub notes. “Fat calories provide energy, but you also need protein, vitamins and minerals, which are the building blocks of tissues and important in other functions. Fats that contribute more omega-3 content may be more beneficial.”
High-fat diets can lack palatability, and over time some horses will avoid eating them. This is another area where a good fat supplement can be helpful. A good example is the recently reformulated Farnam Weight Builder Equine Weight Supplement. The new formula increases the supplement’s fat percentage from 40 percent to 50 percent. Flaxseed meal ups the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, and stabilized rice bran helps supply fat calories for energy. “Stabilized” is the key word here — it means the rice bran goes through a process that prevents rancidity.
"The attractiveness of a product like Weight Builder is that it has additional nutrients to help balance the total package, including 11 percent protein, a high component of omega-3 fatty acids and a calcium-phosphorus ratio of two to one,” says Raub. “If you’re upping the calories you’re delivering, you also want to up the ratio of the other nutrients you’re delivering. A product like Weight Builder also has a better omega-3 to omega-6 profile than straight corn oil.”
“Although the former Weight Builder was a great product, we wanted to use the most updated information available in equine research to modernize this legacy product,” says Tina Anderson, Director of New Equine Product Strategy & Development at Farnam. “We believe horse owners will enjoy the benefits of multiple fat sources in a more balanced nutritional formula. In addition to having a higher total percentage of fat, the updated formula is still the easy-to-feed, highly palatable product they have known and loved for years.”
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