Most people always misunderstand the crucial role protein plays in their horses’ diet. They often think that it’s nothing but an energy-giving nutrient. But in reality, the macronutrient is responsible for providing structure together with other essential functions critical to horses’ growth and development.
Protein is a crucial component of the horse’s diet and is often required for a wide range of essential body functions. These functions include muscle growth, enzyme activity, hormone production, and nutrient transportation. Protein also helps in strengthening the immune system.
Moreover, it helps grow and repair damaged tissues. For this reason, the protein requirements of lactating, growing, and heavily-exercising horses can be increased. Otherwise, your horses won’t grow and develop properly, nor produce healthy offspring.
Hence, it’s important to know the right amount of protein your horse needs. If you’re unsure of where to start, use this article as your guide.
What Is The Importance Of Hay In The Protein Requirements Of Horses?
Hay is a major part of the horse’s diet, and it’s responsible for filling their daily protein needs as long as they’re fed with the right amount. However, not all hays are the same, so it’s vital to identify which one has the appropriate hay quality for your horses.
In addition, choosing the right hay will help you prevent common digestive issues in horses, such as acidosis and gastric ulcers. Here are some types of hay you might want to know, including their protein content:
- Bermuda Grass Hay
This type of hay has a protein content of 5 to 15%. It contains sufficient amino acids necessary for horse health. However, supplements may be required to meet other nutrient needs, such as vitamins and minerals.
- Timothy Hay
Timothy hay is the most common type of hay used to feed horses. It has a protein content of 6 to 10%, depending on the class of timothy hay you choose. For maximum protein and optimum palatability, go for pre-bloom rather than first and second cutting. However, this type lacks zinc and copper, which support strong hooves and healthy joints. Therefore, further supplementation may be required to meet these needs.
- Clover Hay
Clover hay provides a high protein content ranging from 14 to 21%. It also provides a good blend of essential nutrients, such as iron, manganese, and potassium. However, you might need to avoid it, especially after frost formations. Frost forces the plant to release sugars that may induce laminitis in horses. It’s best to avoid red clover hay as well because it can cause excessive salivation in horses, even though it’s not permanent.
- Alfalfa Hay
Alfalfa hay probably has the highest protein content of 17 to 25%. It’s filling and equipped with a lot of essential nutrients, such as calcium, zinc, and iron—ideal for heavily exercised horses. On top of that, its calcium and high protein content produce a buffering effect, which helps reduce the chances of getting gastric ulcers.
How Much Protein Do Horses Need?
The protein requirement of horses may vary based on their physical activities and stage of development. Usually, younger horses have higher protein needs than older ones. The following are the different types of horses and their corresponding protein needs:
- Mature Horses With A Light Workload
Mature horses with a light workload weigh around 500 kg. Typically, they need about 0.6 kg of protein per day for light work, early pregnancy, and maintenance. They may get this protein either by pasture grazing or consuming grass hay, which is dry matter that weighs about 10 kg.
- Mature Horses With A Moderate To Heavy Workload
These hard-working horses need at least 0.9 to 1 kg of protein per day. To meet their protein requirements, you’ll need to feed them 10 kg of hay and 1 to 2 kg of fortified feed. This is ideal for supporting their moderate to heavy workload.
- Broodmares In Late Pregnancy Stage
Broodmares need quality protein to build fetal tissue and placenta. Forage with a good amount of alfalfa can meet their protein requirements. However, if they’re on marginal grazing, it’s best to add at least 0.9 kg of concentrate with 13 to 16% protein to meet their growing needs.
- Broodmares Lactating In The First Three Months
Broodmares require a higher amount of protein, around 1.25 kg per day. This protein need would require at least 12 kg of hay. Aside from that, you might need to provide around 3.5 kg of fortified feed to meet their protein requirements.
- Broodmares In Late Lactation
The period of late lactation occurs after the first three months of lactation. Broodmares in this stage have a lower protein requirement of 0.9 kg. You can help them meet this need by feeding them 10 kg of hay and 1.2 kg of fortified feed.
- Weanlings Weighing 250 Kg
Younger horses need a lot of protein for their growth and development. They have a protein requirement of 0.7 kg, which can be achieved with hay and fortified feed. However, since these younger horses consume less hay, it’d be best to increase the grains to 3.2 kg.
- Yearlings Weighing 380 Kg
Yearlings are 12-month-old horses—hence, the name. Their protein requirements are around 0.8 kg per day. You can help them meet this need by feeding them hay and 1.8 kg of fortified feed.
- Young Horses In Training
These horses have lower protein needs compared to weanlings and younglings. They only need 0.9 kg of protein per day. To meet their protein requirements, you’ll need to feed them at least 6.4 kg of hay and 3.2 kg of fortified feed.
What Does High-Quality And Low-Quality Protein Mean?
High-quality protein contains all the essential amino acids for proper growth and development. Low-quality protein, on the other hand, doesn’t have a complete set of essential amino acids. Why is knowing this important? Because a horse may remain underdeveloped, even if they’re able to meet their daily needs. Therefore, focus on supplying their needs while providing them with high-quality protein.
Why Is Protein So Important For Younger Horses?
Younger horses need more protein to support their growth and development. This is especially true when it comes to the most important amino acids: lysine, methionine, and threonine. They can get all these essential amino acids by drinking their mother’s milk, eating legume hay (alfalfa), and consuming concentrates rich in soybean meal.
As the owner, it’s your duty to ensure that your horses meet their daily nutrient needs by feeding them properly. One of the nutrients to focus on is protein, which is responsible for the growth and development of your horses. But remember to supply them only with high-quality protein for positive results.