Feeding Fido: Is Kibble Still Okay? 8 counter points to the agenda against formulated pet food

Circulating Video Against “Kibble”

The link above is to a video that has been circulating the internet.  It captured my attention as it uses scare tactics to keep pet owners from feeding a balanced pet food (aka kibble) as the main source of nutrition.   I feed my fur baby (Angel pictured above) dry dog food formulated for her physiological state with the addition of plenty of treats and even some human foods which all can be a part of a healthy nutritious diet.  Additionally, Ward Laboratories Inc.  participates in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) proficiency program and therefore, pet food and pet food ingredients are tested in our laboratory.   Here are my 8 points of rebuttal to the above video link:

 

  1. Dry dog foods have been formulated for dogs in all stages of life at varying physiological states. Therefore, it should not be assumed that pet owners buy one form of “kibble” and feed it without variation through-out the pet’s entire lifetime.  Many pet owners will change dog food from different life stages and include treats as a routine addition in their pet’s entire diet.  Read the AAFCO statement which qualifies the products as balanced and complete either through feeding trials or laboratory testing of the feed to ensure the nutrient values are in line with an already approved product.

 

  1. The trendy RAW diet for pet food has a higher incidence of food borne illness. Salmonella and Listeria are just two examples of microbial pathogens more likely to be found on raw pet food than dry kibble or canned wet food. These food-borne pathogens also are zoonotic and therefore, can affect the entire family if say mom feeds Fido and then prepares dinner for the rest of the family.

 

  1. In this video, using “run off” from the human food industry is touted as sub-standard. I beg to differ. Using organic waste from human food facilities ensures the products are strictly analyzed to ensure food safety and hazard prevention prior to being processed into dog or cat food.  Additionally, these ingredients are regulated under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), further improving the safety of your pet’s food.  Organic waste often includes certain parts of various food products such as cull carrots, pea shells, beef liver or tongues. Just because they don’t fit our consumer aesthetics and taste preferences does not mean they have no nutritional value. For convenience, these organic materials are processed into dry pellets for storage safety and easy distribution to our four-legged friends.  By utilizing organic waste from human food processing plants, the cost of pet food manufacturing is lower, making good quality food more affordable for the consumer while preventing those materials from falling into landfills, a definite bonus for the environment.

 

  1. The video above suggests that making your own pet food at home is the best alternative to kibble or dry pet food. This will result in mineral and vitamin deficiencies in your pet unless you have a background in animal nutrition. Complete and balanced diets are precisely formulated based on the species and physiological state of the pet. If specific nutrients are not provided, these deficiencies will affect your fur baby’s health. It is not as simple as frying some hamburger and adding some rice to the mix.  Vitamin and mineral supplements will need to be added at the right concentrations to meet the animal’s requirements without causing a potential toxicity.  Pet food companies spend a lot of money to employ educated professionals to formulate good, wholesome products for your pets.

 

  1. Dogs and cats are not just carnivores. They are domesticated species, which have evolved from hunting their own food and consuming an all meat diet to begging for scraps from our diet.  Contrary to the indications in the video, an all meat diet can be hard on your pet’s health, especially the kidneys. Pets on all meat diets can form painful kidney stones due to calcium and phosphorous imbalance. An all meat diet will also contain a deficiency of readily available carbohydrates, which are a necessary energy source for animals.

 

  1. Yes, misguiding labels are an issue. A well-educated consumer should be aware that labeled ingredients are often the result of splitting.  Some pet food labels will split plant ingredients for example, ground rice, rice flower, and rice bran, so that a meat ingredient can appear first on the ingredient list.

 

  1. To expect an industrialized manufacturing industry of any sort to never have a recall is over the top. Recalls on human food products are just as common as recalls on pet food.  The last one I can remember that affected how I grocery shopped was a recall on Sabra humus, but it passed, and I still enjoy a healthy snack of carrot sticks and humus from time to time.  Additionally, there are recalls on both “kibble” and raw pet foods, which is considered a better pet food option in the video.

 

  1. The video concludes by stating that if you cannot pronounce a specific ingredient on the label, you should not be feeding it to your pet. I strongly disagree. Unless you have a strong background in chemistry, natural and synthetic mineral compounds added to pet food are difficult to pronounce, however the ingredient itself is serving a purpose: to meet your pet’s requirements for specific minerals. Below, I have inserted a photo example of an ingredients list you may find on a dry dog food label. One ingredient that may be difficult to pronounce but is stands out to me as hard to say and nutritionally important is Ferrous Sulfate.  Ferrous Sulfate will provide your pet with required iron and sulfur in a complete and balanced diet.
ingredients
http://www.dummies.com/pets/dogs/how-to-read-a-dog-food-label/

Videos and articles that circulate the internet should always be closely scrutinized. Pet food manufacturers test ingredients as well as final products to ensure the formulated kibble is both safe and nutritious for pets.  There are many options if you prefer to go grain free to avoid pet allergies or you are looking to increase omega fatty acids to improve your pets coat. It is up to you as a consumer to read ingredients lists, AAFCO statements, and guaranteed analysis to determine the best food to fit your furry friend. If you doubt a pet food’s nutritional value, you can always send a sample to the lab to check it against its guaranteed analysis.

If you are interested in learning more about feeding a safe and nutritious diet to your pet, check out the resources below.

paleo-or-mcdonalds-choosing-a-diet-for-your-pet

how-safe-is-pet-food-likely-safer-than-yours

FDA Pet Food Labels

FDA Pet Food Literacy 

Nutritent Requirements of Dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Considerations of Water Quality for Beef Cattle

Typically, livestock water access and quality are considered during the summer months when heat stress is a concern.  I am choosing to address this topic during the cold winter months because as the temperature drops, below the thermal neutral zone animals consume more feed to increase metabolic heat production and water intake requirements increase with feed intake.  Water is often an overlooked nutrient during the winter months although access to quality water is important for maximum health and production.  Additionally, I have received a concerning inquiry regarding adding salt to water to keep it thawed during the winter months.  This could have deleterious effects on animal health. If a high salt water is provided with no alternate fresh water source, it could eventually lead to the animal’s death.  It is important to remember that water serves many functions in the mammalian body including making up 70% of the body’s mass, regulating temperature, growth, reproduction, lactation, digestion, metabolism, and many other functions we typically take for granted to function properly.  Therefore, access to quality water is important throughout all seasons, including the winter months.  Cattle can substitute snow if water availability is sparse but, access to quality water promotes maximum growth and reproductive performance.  Cattle are not particularly fond of cold water and therefore, while they can use snow in place of water, they prefer a heated water tank. Below are 4 items to examine when determining water quality:

  1. Total Dissolved Solubles (TDS).

This measures the minerals broken down within the water. Sodium chloride (NaCl), bicarbonate (HCO3­), sodium sulfate (Na2SO4), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) are some of the common solubles present in water.  Less than 1000 ppm TDS indicates safe water and will not cause any animal health concerns.  If the TDS is greater than 1000 ppm then further guidelines found in either the Ward Guide page 148  (http://wardlab.com/download/WardGuide.pdf) or Table 9-2 of Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle 8th revised edition page 156 should be referenced for Total Soluble Salts (TSS) guidelines

  1. Nitrate.

Health risks including abortion can occur in cattle drinking greater than 133 ppm NO3-N over long periods of time.  Nitrate poisoning and death can result from cattle consuming water greater than 221 ppm NO3-N.

  1. Sulfates.

High sulfate water can result in health risks from diarrhea to Polioencephalomalacia (PEM), a disruption in thiamin metabolism resulting in a neurological disorder.  It is recommended that calves are provided with water less than 500 ppm sulfate and mature beef cattle are provided with water less than 1000 ppm sulfate.

  1. Contaminants.

Other compounds can be found in water which are detrimental to cattle health. Below is listed common contaminants Ward Laboratories, Inc. tests for, but we are always happy to send samples out to other labs if you suspect another compound may be causing issues.  We commonly send out for selenium and lead.

Contaminant Toxic level (ppm)
Aluminum 0.5
Boron 5.0
Copper 1.0
Fluoride 2.0
Manganese 0.05
Zinc 5.0

 

In conclusion, it is important to provide quality water low in soluble salts, nitrates, sulfates and other contaminants to cattle in order to maximize production performance and ensure healthy animals.  Addition of salts to beef cattle water to keep it thawed during the winter months can increase the TDS thereby, having negative effects on cattle performance and health.  If you are struggling with keeping waterers thawed, remember cattle can substitute snow for water when necessary, and options such as heated tanks should be considered. If you are really struggling and need to get creative, put a salt water solution in water bottles and allow them to float at the top to prevent ice formation.

 

Cattle and Crops: Completing the Nutrient Cycle

How many of us producers have a shovel in our pickup? When was the last time we used that shovel to thoroughly examine our soil?  Are we able to determine what a truly healthy soil looks like? Grab a shovel and take a look at your soil. Check out your soil profile. Does the shovel easily enter the ground? Is there a cottage cheese like structure? Is there a nice, deep rich brown color to your soil? Is the soil easily crumbled in your hand? All of these characteristics indicate a healthy soil. If you answered no to any of these questions, a look into your soil’s health may be just what you need.

Soil health has become a buzzword in agriculture. It is used as a way of understanding the impacts we have on the living soil ecosystem. The five principles of soil health are: cover the soil, minimize soil disturbance, create a diverse plant population, maintain continuous living roots and integrate livestock to complete the nutrient cycle and promote a healthy soil ecosystem. Highly disturbed soils with low organic matter, high weed pressure, poor soil structure and poor soil drainage are only a few symptoms of a “sick” soil. Continued interest in influences that impact soil biology, an important link to the physical and chemical characteristics of soils, have led to the reduction of tillage, fertilizer and pesticide use, thus reducing producers’ input costs.

Soil health also relates to the crops we choose to grow. When a plant is growing, it harvests energy from the sun and converts it into simple sugars for plant growth. As the nutrients begin to deplete around the root zone, the plant roots begin growing towards nutrients in the soil. The roots cannot grow quickly enough to harvest adequate nutrients for continued growth. They release simple sugar based compounds called root exudates that gather a microbial community that will help harvest nutrients from the soil. As microbial communities grow and expand, they release “super glues” in the soil that promote soil aggregation. Aggregation not only acts as a home for microbes but also creates channels that promote water infiltration and increases the soils’ ability to retain water.

Furthermore, root growth density, structure and depth are plant dependent, so care should be taken when deciding what to plant. Cover crops can be excellent nitrogen scavengers, soil builders, erosion preventers, weed suppressors and forage sources. As interest in cover crops continues, it is important to realize that although there are numerous benefits to keeping a living plant on your ground, each plant species can have harmful characteristics. Certain species may be better at suppressing undesirable weeds than others. Some species may become hosts to harmful pests. For example, cereal rye is a popular, fast growing cover that has the ability to reduce soil-borne diseases, nematodes and weeds, but it does not control weedy grasses and can increase cut worms and wire worms. Thus, rye would not be the most suitable cover to plant prior to grass crops such as corn, sweet corn, sorghum or wheat. Multispecies cover crops not only provide a variety of benefits, but helps fill gaps or mitigate the weaknesses of monoculture cover crops. Multispecies cover crops mimic nature, which uses a wide variety of plant species to maintain an effective system. Selecting the correct mix of cover crops for your production will take time, research and trial and error. A cover crop that is ideal for one producer may not be the best for another, so it is important to select cover crops that grow well in your area and meet you own soil health goals.

Producer oriented conferences, such as the Western Canada Soil Health and Grazing Conference we recently attended, can aid producers in forming a plan of action for their soils as well as start a conversation with local producers as to what management practices have worked well for them. While at the conference, producers and researchers alike shared principle ideas about incorporating cattle and cover crops into a cropping system. This approach has created healthier soils and a more cost-effective feed source for livestock. So, what happens to the soil when cattle graze?

Cover crops can provide a mixed culture forage for cattle to gain key macronutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats. In exchange for the plant’s nutrients, manure and urine left behind provide a source of new microbes and new organic matter for plants and existing microbes. Addition of new microbes often signals to prevailing microbes that a new source of nutrients is available for consumption and use. This process feeds the continued growth of plants and completes the nutrient cycle.

But it doesn’t end there. An animal feeding on the plant also impacts its root growth. When cattle feed on plants, they trigger a survival response in plants that requires the plant to decide which roots best support the continued survival of the plant. The other roots are abandoned, but still serve as a home and food source for the microbial community. As the abandoned roots degrade, the tunnels left by the roots increases the soil’s water infiltration rate and improves the soil for macrofauna such as earthworms and arthropods. As the plant recovers, roots will resume growing normally and further improve soil structure.

The use of cattle and cover crops in agriculture operations provide the link to completing the nutrient cycle in the soil. The strong root systems of multispecies cover crop mixes provide numerous benefits to soil microbial communities and positively influence soil structure. These mixes can provide nutrients to cattle who in turn return nutrients to the soil. Successful implementation of management practices by well-known regenerative farmers such as Gabe Brown and David Brandt are excellent examples of soil health practices but should not be viewed as the silver bullet to healthier soils. Instead, their principles and view of soil management in a holistic manner can provide helpful guidelines to producers interested in improving their soil. Soils, like people, differ greatly and will require different strategies to strengthen them. So, grab your shovel. Get down. Get dirty. And get to know your soil.

2017 KSU Swine Day

A couple of weeks ago I attended Swine Day for the second year in a row.  This event is a great way to remain informed on the latest in swine nutrition research. I would recommend attending for anyone involved in the swine industry.  It is also very interesting to see what the researchers are doing with all of the feed samples that go through Ward Laboratories, INC from the Kansas State University Swine Laboratory. The morning session consisted of quick 15 minute research updates on the projects in Manhattan, KS and with KSU cooperators.  Two presentations that specifically caught my attention were the feed safety presentation by Dr. Cassie Jones and the Limonene presentation by Dr. Jim Nelssen. Finally, I would be doing a disservice to the lab if I did not highlight Dr. Chad Paulk’s presentation on sampling technique from feeders.

I often field phone calls from producers wanting to test for mycotoxins. These toxins are produced from specific strains of mold under certain conditions and often appear together.  At Ward Laboratories, Inc., we only test for Aflatoxin, but always help people find a lab to test with if they would like to test other mycotoxins.  Dr. Jones’ presentation focused on what we can do with contaminated feeds specifically corn grain and how some of our common practices to reduce shrink in feed mills may be contributing to mycotoxin contamination of feeds.  Mycotoxin producing molds often thrive on broken kernels of corn.  Therefore, Dr. Jones analyzed the effect of cleaning corn or separating the broken kernels from the intact kernels on mycotoxin contamination.  She found that cleaning the corn kernels decreased aflatoxin by 26% and fumonisin by 45% in the cleanings.  However, the screenings were concentrated with aflatoxin.  Often these screenings are added back to other feeds to decrease shrinkage in the feed mill.  Thus, hitting home the point that maybe a little shrinkage could be acceptable when taking into account the potential negative effects on animal health. A summary of this research can be found on page 54 of the 2017 Swine Day publication.

In the livestock industry across all species, consumers are driving increasing demand for antibiotic free products in supermarkets.  Therefore, finding alternatives to antimicrobial products that boost performance in a comparable way is a lucrative research goal.  According to Dr. Nelssen, antibiotic alternatives represent a $20 million global industry across all species and, in swine the cost of going antibiotic free is $20.68 / pig due to decreased growth rate.  Therefore, his research compared average daily gain (ADG) in weaned pigs given feed four different feed treatments 1) Carbodox, an antibiotic fed for increased performance, 2) increased concentrations of copper and zinc, 3) the essential oil Limonene 4) a negative control diet.  Limonene is already an approved product (Victus LIV) to replace Tylosin in beef cattle.  The results of his study show that pigs supplemented with copper and zinc together or Limonene had higher ADG than the negative control diet and performed comparably with pigs supplemented with Carbodox.  A summary of this research can be found on page 31 of the 2017 Swine Day Publication.

Many producers who want to sample their feed are often unsure of how to take an accurate and representative sample.  For Hay samples I always refer them to the National Forage Testing Association guidelines, however for swine mixed feeds I have a hard time with a resource to direct them toward.  Dr. Chad Paulk’s presentation focused on quality control in feeds testing.  First, he compared probe samples to hand samples and found that the probe decreases variability among samples.  Then, Dr. Paulk compared sampling individual feeders with taking a composite sample and determined that the composite sample also decreased variability.  Additionally, the results showed that using a probe and a composite sample together reduced the number of samples needed to ensure an accurate result. Dr. Paulk’s final recommendation when taking a mixed feed sample from a feeder is:

  1. Utilize a probe
  2. Take 6 samples from 6 different feeders
  3. Combine those samples for one composite sample

A summary of this research can be found on page 55 of the 2017 Swine Day Publication.

Here just three topics covered of many in this year’s Swine Day at KSU have been highlighted.  I would encourage all involved in this ever changing industry to attend this event in the future and check out the information they have made available through the links I have included below. As for those of you looking to take a feed sample, don’t overlook the importance of an accurate representative sample.  Consider taking advantage of the technique outlined above.

Presentations: https://www.asi.k-state.edu/events/swine-day/presentations.html

Publications: http://newprairiepress.org/kaesrr/vol3/iss7/

What to Do with Down Corn?

Here in Nebraska, down corn has been an issue for cattle producers who want to graze corn stalks.  Due to a late harvest and weather patterns creating high winds, many corn fields have ears of corn just lying on the ground.  Cattle are selective grazers and will pick the high energy, high starch grain over the high fiber, low energy corn stalks if given the chance to be turned out onto those fields.  This can cause issues such as acidosis, bloat and eventually death among cattle.  The available starch in corn grain is rapidly fermented by rumen microbes, this can result in acidosis where the pH of the rumen decreases rapidly damaging the epithelial lining of the rumen.  If cattle are dealing with bouts of acidosis after eating they will likely go off feed for a short period, but then they will go right back out and consume the high grain diet that made them sick in the first place, thus resulting in another bout of acidosis.   The readily available energy in the corn grain can also result in a feedlot type frothy bloat.  If untreated and not taken off the high grain diet the cow will continue to eat and eventually death will occur.

Due to those risks in down corn fields, different management is necessary to graze those fields.  Unfortunately, varied management also means more labor-intensive strategies.  For example, the first step is to determine about how much corn is down in your field.  For this I would reference UNL extension Mary Drewnoski’s calculator and article regarding down corn https://beef.unl.edu/down-corn-problem-or-opportunity-cattle-producers.  After determining how much corn grain is available in the field, you can utilize a feedlot type / mob grazing strategy where you utilize electric fencing to reduce the amount of corn grain they consume daily and provide extra roughage in addition to the cornstalks already available.  In this way you can gradually allow them to have more access to the field and provide less roughage to acclimate the rumen microbes to the high starch diet without the pitfalls and production losses of associated acidosis and bloat.

Another strategy some producers have looked toward is to rake and bale the cornstalks corn grain and all to mix into a total mixed ration (TMR).  One issue that this strategy might run into is the ash content of the baled corn stalks may be high and may cause an impaction.   Ash is defined as the total mineral content of a feed and has two sources.  Endogenous ash is from the plant and is bioavailable providing micronutrients to the animal. Exogenous ash is from soil contamination of the feed.  This soil is not available as micronutrients and usually just passes through the animal’s digestive tract.  The problem with soil contaminated feeds is that the soil could cause a compaction within the omasum, abomasum or beginning of the small intestine.  An impaction would not allow other nutrients to pass through and could cause cattle to go off feed if it is serious enough.  Not enough research has been done in this area to determine how much ash or soil contamination would result in an impaction.  The more likely issue however would be a decrease in performance due to the dry matter intake the ash is taking up.  Roughages and forages generally range between 8-10% ash with 4-6% being endogenous.  Extremely soil contaminated roughages could contain as much as 18% ash.  Because cattle typically consume 2% of their body weight in dry matter, consumption of a soil contaminated feed can result in a considerable amount of the ash as dry matter intake with no nutritional value. Thereby, resulting in decreased performance for the animal.  Therefore, it would be my recommendation when raking and baling down corn for a TMR to test the ash content and if it is high, mix with feeds that have a low ash content to minimize impaction risk and performance losses. It is also important to remember to test the nutritional value of the baled corn stalks before mixing them into the TMR as it has more energy value than typical cornstalks due to the high grain content and should be treated as such. In addition, soil contamination of any feed can introduce mold spores heightening animal health risks and decreasing production performance. Therefore, it would be my recommendation when raking and baling down corn for a TMR to test the ash content and if it is high, mix with feeds that have a low ash content to minimize impaction risk and performance losses.

6 Cautions When Grazing Cover Crops

Grazing cover crops can be a cost-effective way to achieve multiple productions goals.  Cover crops can provide ground cover to prevent erosion, improve soil health over time, and provide nutrition to beef cattle.  However, cover crops are not a fool proof feed.  Turning cattle out onto cover crops to graze without proper feed tests can lead to a wreak due to improper management.  Recently, I had a producer lose 12 head of growing cattle to polioencephalomalacia, a neurological disease in cattle consuming too much sulfur.  After the incident, that producer wanted to test his cover crops to ensure he did not experience another tragic loss.  My advice, is to test cover crops before grazing for protein, energy value, minerals, nitrates, and under some circumstances, prussic acid to ensure proper management and prevent undue losses. These are the 6 cautions to consider when grazing cover crops:

  1. Nitrates

Cover crop mixes include several plant species known to accumulate nitrates for example: brassicas, such as turnips and radishes, or small grain plants, such as oats, millet, or grain sorghums. When cattle consume high nitrate feeds, the microbes in the rumen convert that nitrate to nitrite.  The nitrite is then in the gas, which the cattle belch and then inhale.  The nitrite then binds to the blood hemoglobin preventing oxygen from binding.  At levels between 1,400 – 2100 ppm NO3-N this can cause spontaneous abortions with no warning signs or symptoms.  At levels between 2,100 – 4,000 ppm NO3-N sudden death may occur and therefore, animals grazing cover crops should be slowly acclimated to consumption of nitrates and offered a low nitrate roughage to fill up on first.  Never allow hungry cattle onto a high nitrate field.  Nitrate levels above 4,000 ppm NO3-N should not be grazed as sudden death will likely occur.

  1. High sulfur

The toxic level of sulfur in a cattle diet is 0.40 ppm on a dry basis.  Brassicas are sulfur accumulators, that occasionally test above the maximum tolerable level, and are often included in cover crop grazing mixes.  When sulfur intake is above the tolerable level, thiamin metabolism is impaired in a condition known as polioencephalomalacia (PEM). Head pressing, blindness, and muscle tremors are all clinical symptoms of PEM which, untreated, results in death.

  1. Low magnesium

Grass tetany is a condition commonly associated with lush spring pastures.  These pastures are known for having low magnesium due to rapid growth conditions. Cover crops also tend to have low magnesium.   The magnesium requirement for a beef cow is 0.2% of the diet at peak lactation and 0.1% of the diet for growing cattle.  When cover crops contain less magnesium than is required, a magnesium deficiency can develop resulting in grass tetany.  The signs of grass tetany are cattle stop grazing, become overly alert, and appear uncomfortable, they will then begin to stagger until they finally lie down with their head pulled back into a “star gazing position”.  Untreated, this condition will result in death.  To prevent the development of a magnesium deficiency, many producers grazing cover crops feed a mineral between 8-12% magnesium to be consumed at a rate of 2.5-4oz per head per day.

  1. Prussic acid

In cover crop mixes there are species of plants which accumulate hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas commonly known as prussic acid, in their leaves under stressful growing conditions.  These plants include sorghum grasses, sudan grasses, and flax.  Stressful growing conditions includes drought or frost.  Plants grown in drought conditions should be tested for prussic acid prior to grazing because consumption of high levels of the gas is sudden death.  Contrarily, frost typically breaks cell walls allowing the release of the gas and therefore should be safe to graze after 4 days.  Regrowth after a frost however, should be tested prior to grazing because the plant is stressed from the previous frost, but the cell walls have not been broken to allow the gas to escape.

  1. Bloat

A frothy bloat is often attributed to legumes or high protein grasses.  Cover crop mixes high in legumes such as clover, beans, or cowpeas may result in some animals over indulging in the legumes resulting in frothy bloat issues.  These legume plants are high in soluble protein and sugars which allows the microbes to ferment and grow at a rapid rate resulting in a high rate of gaseous by-product accumulation.

  1. Choke

Brassicas such as radishes and turnips may be pulled from the ground to be consumed by cattle grazing cover crops.  If they are swallowed without proper mastication the animal may choke on the large root.  This is typically more of a problem for young cattle who are inexperienced in grazing brassicas.

Overall, grazing cover crops can be a great way to provide nutrients to cattle, prevent soil erosion and improve soil health.  However, the producer should be aware of the risks they are assuming feeding these diverse forages.  Testing for nitrates, minerals, and potentially prussic acid is highly recommended to avoid unnecessary losses due to grazing cover crops.

 

7 Concepts on Hay Analysis for Horses with Metabolic Conditions

Over the past year, when I receive phone calls from equine enthusiasts, they all seem to have the same question. What do I need to analyze my hay for a horse that has been diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Cushing’s Disease, Equine Diabetes or is prone to Laminitis?

While the pathology and causes of each of these disorders may be very different, they all can be managed through diet. Each of these conditions requires the horse to consume a low, simple carbohydrate diet. This means feeding no cereal grains, which are high in starches, but instead feeding a high fiber, forage based diet. I typically recommend that these clients run an NIR plus TSI plus Starch. When choosing a hay or analyzing pasture grass for suitability to feed horses with metabolic conditions, there are 7 key concepts to examine.

1. Protein

When determining a forage to feed, it is important to realize that without grain supplementation, it will be important to meet the horses protein requirements. Most horses at maintenance require 10% crude protein on a dry basis. Growing, breeding, and working or performing horses have increased protein requirements depending on their physiological state and physical activity level.

2. Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF)

The ADF is an indicator of the digestible energy available in a feed. Most horses at maintenance require between 37-40% ADF on a dry basis. Higher fiber percentages in a forage indicates that there is more structural carbohydrates in the feed and therefore less water soluble carbohydrates such as sugars and starches, which should be avoided when managing a metabolic condition.

3. Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF)

Similar to ADF, increased NDF also indicates that more carbohydrates have been converted from water soluble carbohydrates to structural carbohydrates, therefore forages with higher NDF tend to be better for managing a horse with a metabolic syndrome. Most horses at maintenance require between 50-65% NDF on a dry basis. The NDF is an indicator of dry matter intake and palatability, as NDF increases the horse will consume less of that feed, so avoid a hay with an NDF much higher than 65%.

4. Relative Feed Value (RFV)

The RFV is a calculated index based on the ADF and NDF. A good hay to maintain a horses condition would have a RFV between 83-112. Typically, grass hays and grass forages are going to meet the RFV recommendations for horses with metabolic conditions as opposed to commonly fed legumes such as alfalfa hay.

5. Non- Structural Carbohydrates (NSC)

The NSC are carbohydrates that do not make up the structural, fibrous portions of the plant. They are measured and include water soluble carbohydrates (glucose, fructose, and other sugars) and starches. It is recommended that the NSC be below 10% in horses with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, or Cushing’s Disease. Throughout the daylight hours, plants accumulate NSC and at night, those accumulated NSC are converted to cellulose and other fibers, making the NSC content of pasture grass cyclic. Therefore, when allowing horses with a metabolic condition to graze pasture, it is best to turn them out on to pasture in the early morning when sugars are low in the pasture grass and never allow grazing in the evening when sugars are high in the grass. If you are producing hay to be consumed by horses with the aforementioned conditions, hay should be cut in the early morning hours to obtain the least amount of NSC possible. Furthermore, if your cut hay were to get rained on, the sugars or water soluble carbohydrates would be removed from the hay, resulting in lower NSC content and increased fiber percentage, making that hay ideal for horses with metabolic syndromes. Be sure to bale hay that has been rained on after the hay has had a chance to dry to avoid any potential mold or heat damage issues.

6. Total Sugars Invert (TSI)

At Ward Laboratories, Inc. we do not measure water soluble carbohydrates, however we can measure the amount of glucose and fructose in a feed as TSI.

7. Starch

Starch is an indicator of feed energy. Unfortunately, when consumed, feed is broken down into glucose units which contribute to metabolic related issues. Starch, in addition to water soluble carbohydrates or in our lab TSI, is the measurement of NSC. To reiterate the very important recommendation from above; TSI + Starch should be less than 10% in a forage or hay to be used to manage a horse’s metabolic condition through the diet.

In conclusion, when feeding a horse with a metabolic condition, avoid grain as it is high in starch and choose a low quality grass hay that is at or above 10% crude protein on a dry basis. Keep the non-structural carbohydrates to less than 10% of the hay or forage you are feeding. Following these guidelines should prevent bouts of laminitis and keep the metabolic condition in check.