Protein for Horses Prone to Laminitis – Forageplus Thoughts

Have you thought about protein levels for horses prone to laminitis? A client who has a laminitis prone horse contacted us to check that the sugar levels in hay, fed to her horse, were low enough to be suitable without soaking.

protein for horses prone to laminitis forageplus

The hay was tested using a nutritional analysis hay test for horses. The sugar levels (ESC and starch combined) were borderline at just under 10% so we advised her to soak if her horse was not a well controlled laminitic horse. But something else caught our eye about the protein levels.  The levels were low but this is a common occurrence in the reports which we see here at Forageplus.

Average protein levels in hay for horses prone to laminitis

On average we see hay and haylage with protein levels around the 5% – 6% mark. These averages come from statistical analysis of all yearly forage results using multivariate analysis. This enables us to help customers feed their horses accurately by starting with the grass, hay and haylage eaten.

A lower protein level in hay might not be a problem where you have a horse which is not overweight or not prone to weight gain eating ad-lib hay. However where you have a good doer type of horse protein levels may not be sufficient. Where a horse needs both forage and bucket feed limiting to control weight gain, you might find that these horses don’t even have the minimum levels of protein suggested by the Nutrient Requirements for Horses 2007 NRC tables. Without correct levels of protein it will be difficult for that horse to maintain a good level of health.

protein levels in hay and haylage for horses forageplus

Average protein levels UK forage 2014 -16, calculated using multivariate analysis.

Protein is crucial for all life and without good levels of protein of good quality in the diet horses may struggle to maintain muscle mass and support and maintain good health in many different ways. You can find out more about protein and how it is important to health, vitality and resilience by reading this article here.

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The maths for calorie and protein levels for horses prone to laminitis

This particular hay nutritional analysis was carried out for a good doer horse, but the customer is managing the weight well. The horse weighs 450 kg and the following table is a guide to how much this horse, fed this hay, has to eat to provide enough calories for the different work levels. This is based on the hay tested having DE level of 8.58 MJ/kg, which is a good calorific value.

Horse Work Level
(450kg Bodyweight)
DE (MJ/Kg) needed to maintain bodyweightAmount of forage
to be fed (Kg)
Maintenance Level62.98.1
Light Level75.49.7
Moderate Level87.811.3
Heavy Level100.212.9

Maintaining body weight with this hay is relatively easy but the protein is a different matter.

If you look at the Forageplus Nutritional Report below (click on the picture to enlarge), protein in the hay is  reported at 5.1%. This amount is well below the ideal of 8% for forage fed to all horses.  This means that a 450kg horse will be short of protein when fed the amount needed to maintain weight. This horse will need feeding an additional protein form other than forage to boost protein levels when calorie levels are correct.

nutritional analysis hay report forageplus

The following information shows you how just much protein a 450 kg horse needs and how much it receives when fed the weight of this hay for each work level. Red text is the protein level provided by the hay. Green text is the NRC (Nutrient Requirements for Horses 2007) minimum daily protein levels for a horse weighing 450kg:

Maintenance
Feeding 8.1kg: 372 grams 486 grams
The horse will be 113 grams short of minimum levels.

Light Work

Feeding 9.7kg: 446.2 grams 567 grams
The horse will be 120.8 grams short of minimum levels.

Moderate Work
Feeding 11.3kg: 519.8 grams 648 grams
The horse will be 128.2 grams short of minimum levels.

Heavy Work
Feeding 12.9kg: 593.4 grams 900 grams
The horse will be 306.6 grams short of minimum levels.

Remember that this article is only about good doer horses, however you can see that all horses would be affected by the low protein in this hay. If you want to know about how protein levels affect young horses then click here. If you are interested in feeding breeding mares then click here.

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The best way to feed extra protein to horses?

We suggest that some of the hay is substituted for a higher protein bucket feed. The amount you need to substitute can be as great as you like if you use fibre based feeds, with some grass nuts being able to be used as total hay replacers as long as the ESC sugar and starch total is below 10%. You could choose a higher protein grass nut, beet pulp or a small amount of micronised linseed which will be safe for a pony prone to laminitis. You need obviously to be very careful about the feed you choose that it is suitable for a horse prone to laminitis with sugar and starch below 10%. You could also use whey protein to top up levels.

We will assume vitamins and minerals are being fed matched to that needed to balance the hay or grass eaten.  This could be matched to the forage fed through a full mineral analysis or levels established by statistical analysis such as the ones contained within the Forageplus ‘forage focused’™ balancers.

With the vitamins and minerals covered then you would need the following to maintain calorie (DE) levels to maintain weight but also boost protein.  Understand that some of the hay must be substituted with a bucket feed to boost protein levels but keep calories at the right level. Below are examples of what would be needed for a horse in maintenance or light work using the hay tested by the customer.

Maintenance
7 kg hay
600 grams unmollased beet pulp or Speedi-beet (dry weight, rinse through before soaking and then again after soaking using a large sieve across a bucket.
250 grams micronised linseed

If you want to add a handful of chop or high fibre cubes for palatability at a small amount this is fine.

This will give you a protein level of 463.5 grams against a needed protein level of 486 grams.  The level is nearly there but adding 50 grams of whey protein into the bucket feed as well will top it up to adequate levels.

Light Work
8 kg hay
700 grams unmollased beet pulp or Speedi-beet (dry weight, rinse through before soaking and then again after soaking using a large sieve across a bucket).
350 grams micronised linseed

If you want to add a handful of chop or high fibre cubes for palatability at a small amount this is fine.

This will give you a protein level of 552.1 grams against a needed protein level of 567 grams.  The level is nearly there but adding 50 grams of whey protein into the bucket feed as well will top it up to adequate levels.

What if you can’t analyse your hay and find out protein levels for horses?

You can still assume a shortage of protein by substituting a higher protein bucket feed in place of the hay; feeding 1 kg of beet pulp in place of 1.5kg of hay; 1kg of grass nuts for 1 kg of your hay; and weighing your horse each week to check that weight is being maintained at the correct level. Always feed micronised linseed at 42 grams per 220kg of bodyweight if your horse is not eating on green and growing spring or summer grass.

How do I know how much hay to feed horses prone to laminitis?

If you don’t know the calorie/energy (DE) level of your forage then you can calculate the amount to be fed to maintain weight at 2% of body weight to maintain weight or 1.5% the body weight if the horse needs to lose weight.

Another approach to weight loss is to decide how much weight you want your horse to lose and calculate 2% of that number.  You can then choose either 1.5% of present bodyweight or 2% of the future bodyweight you want the horse to be and feed whichever gives you the greatest feed amount.  What you should never do is feed a horse or pony prone to laminitis less than 1.5% of bodyweight as this could lead to weight loss which fuels further laminitis.

We hope this helps horse owners understand the implications of understanding just how forage protein levels can affect all horses, especially horses prone to laminitis. A simple nutritional analysis of forage can help you manage your horses diet so that it is healthy, at the right weight and those prone to laminitis are managed correctly.

Find out more about managing horses and ponies prone to laminitis here

Find out more about quality protein for all horses here

If you have any more questions please do not hesitate to contact Forageplus as we always ready to help all horses and all horse owners how to make the smartest choices to create truly healthy horses.

forageplus best way to feed-a horse minerals and vitamins

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