Each month, we share #bluebonnetmythbusters over on our social media channels. These are common misconceptions de-bunked and set straight with research-based facts. Below is a collection of myth busters from the first quarter of 2020.
Myth: Broodmares are fine on a pasture-only diet until the last trimester.
Fact: Researchers from the University of Cambridge compiled a list of studies showing nutrition of the mother during pregnancy has a direct effect on her offspring later in life. Low protein diets resulted in anxiety behaviors, hypertension, impaired spatial memory, insulin resistance, altered glucose metabolism, renal dysfunction, and impaired immunity. Undernutrition in general caused vascular dysfunction, altered brain function, cardiac remodeling, obesity, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and impaired cognitive performance. This concept is called Fetal Programing, which means a developing fetus can actually adapt to external factors while in the mother’s womb, and those adaptations have a life-long effect on the baby.
Take a moment to consider how some of these life-long conditions (such as anxiety, impaired memory and altered brain function) could be detrimental to the training program of a young colt. When horses are paid up at high stakes even the smallest level of anxiety or a mental breakdown can be costly.
Proper nutrition for broodmares is important from the moment of conception, not just in the last trimester. Keep in mind that a forage-only diet (hay, pasture, or hay-cubes) lack appropriate mineral levels needed for proper development of a growing fetus. While a mare may not need extra calories or protein from grain in the first two trimesters, it is critical to provide her with proper calcium, phosphorus, and trace minerals (especially copper, zinc, and manganese). This mineral support doesn’t have to come from grain. It may be achieved through a diet balancer supplement or free choice mineral in order to avoid providing excess levels of starch, sugar, protein or calories early in a mare’s pregnancy.
101 Diet Balancer – Stride Animal Health
Free Choice Mineral: Element – Stride Animal Health
Intensify Growth & Development– Bluebonnet Feeds
Horseman’s Elite Mare & Foal – Bluebonnet Feeds
Myth: Beet pulp must always be soaked first.
Fact: Beet pulp is a common fiber source used in equine diets, but an old wives’ tale still floats around that feeding dry beet pulp to horses will cause their stomach to rupture. This is not true. While beet pulp does expand with the addition of water, this is not completely reflective of what happens in the stomach. The stomach is filled with gastric acid, so the instant beet pulp reaches the stomach it begins to break down and safely pass through the digestive tract. Beet pulp is a safe and beneficial ingredient in the diet of horses.
Myth: Constant Nutrition is the same as Locked Formula
Fact: Constant Nutrition is NOT the same as Locked Formula. These two terms seem the same at first glance, but they are very different philosophies. Constant Nutrition means every bag of feed meets the exact nutrition guarantees that are listed on the feed tag. Locked Formula means every bag of feed meets the exact nutrition guarantees that are listed on the feed tag AND the ingredients are always the same.
Let’s compare Constant Nutrition to Locked Formula on two feeds. Both guarantee 14% protein, 6% fat, 12.5% fiber. The feed with a Locked Formula policy will use the same ingredients in the same amount every time the feed is made in order to meet these guarantees. The Constant Nutrition formula will use the cheapest available ingredients in varying amounts in order to meet the same guarantees.
Constant Nutrition formulas are a benefit when cost is the primary concern. They allow ingredients in the formula to change based on fluctuating commodity markets which ensures every bag is produced at the lowest possible cost. Dr. Veronique Julliand, DVM, PhD, a leader in equine digestion and nutrition research, published a 2017 review showing abrupt changes in ingredients (i.e. abruptly changing from alfalfa to corn/soybean meal, while keeping protein constant) caused changes in the gut. Sudden changes in the gut can be linked to digestive upset and colic which is a drawback of Constant Nutrition.
Locked Formulas are a benefit when digestive health and feed consistency is the primary concern. According to Dr. Julliand, when comparing two ingredients of the same botanical origin (but differing crude protein contents), there was little change observed in the gut. Bluebonnet Feeds employs a Locked Formula policy which means ingredients must be consistently sourced from specific regions and they must test within very strict nutritional bounds before they can be accepted for use. The drawback of a Locked Formula policy is the financial burden associated with the labor required to source acceptable ingredients.
There is no “right or wrong”, it is simply a matter of what matters most to the horse owner – cost or consistency.
Myth: Senior Feeds are for Old Horses
Fact: In all honesty, labeling a feed with the word “Senior” is mostly a marketing tactic. The National Research Council does not distinguish a separate life-stage category for senior horses. Their nutritional requirements are considered the same as a mature (yet younger) horse with the same workload. In addition, there are no legal requirements established that a feed must meet before it bears the name “Senior”.
At Bluebonnet Feeds, we understand aging horses have unique needs. Geriatric horses are less able to absorb important nutrients, and as they lose teeth are less able to chew and utilize hay or pasture at full capacity. Therefore, our senior feeds are designed with a few things in mind. First, they contain elevated fiber levels, quality amino acids, and vitamins/minerals in a pelleted form to support proper nutrient absorption and easy digestion. Secondly, the pellets are produced in a size smaller than our other horse feeds. This smaller size increases surface area to allow more contact from saliva (or water if making a mash) which helps the pellet break down quickly. This helps prevent instances of choke in horses who have a hard time chewing due to missing teeth or other dental abnormalities.
Senior feeds are appropriate for any age of horse, just remember to follow feeding directions on the tag. Bluebonnet’s senior feeds are an ideal choice for horses of any age that are prone to choke, recovering from major surgery, in need of a controlled starch/sugar diet, is a picky eater, or needs a higher volume feeding rate due to a shortage of forage.
Myth: Pelleted feeds are made with “floor sweepings”.
Fact: At Bluebonnet Feeds quality of ingredients is our priority. All feed mills have their own set of standards and operating procedures, but rest assured dust and sweepings from the floor are not part of the program at Bluebonnet! In fact, every product made by Bluebonnet Feeds has full traceability from the finished bag all the way back to the original supplier of each ingredient. We believe in transparency, which is why we have an open label policy meaning our ingredients are listed by their true name. You will never see terms like “processed grain by-products” on a horse feed tag from Bluebonnet.
Myth: Protein supplements are good for horses that need weight.
Fact: When a horse is underweight, they need more energy in the diet (we’ll use the word calories toprevent confusion between “dietary energy” and “excitability”). Dietary energy can come from three sources – carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Of those three sources protein is the most difficult for a horse to turn into calories. In addition, a horse cannot store protein for later use, so if they consume more in a day than their body requires, the excess is converted to urea and excreted in the urine (this is what causes the strong ammonia smell in horses fed an excessive amount of protein).
If a horse needs more body condition (more fleshy cover), first increase the amount of good quality hay. Feed at least 2% of body weight each day (for example, a 1000 lb horse should eat 20 lb of good quality hay every 24 hours). Secondly, look for fat supplements or high fat feeds to quickly and safely add calories without making a horse extra flighty or excitable. Just keep in mind it typically takes 30 to 60 days to safely add an extra body condition score to a horse (for an average mature horse one condition score is equivalent to approximately 50 pounds).
Intensify Omega Force (12% fat)
Shine (99% fat)
Fish Oil Factor(30% fat).