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Make Sure you Understand Protein

Protein is an essential component of your horse’s diet.


ALL tissues are made of protein as are the enzymes which perform the trillions of chemical reactions going on every minute of the day that keep you alive.


Hence if there is inadequate protein in the diet the body starts breaking down its own tissues; such as muscle, in order to fulfil the more urgent requirements.

You will observe this as GRADUAL general deterioration of health - loss of top-line, poor hoof quality and hair-coat.

This is how the dreaded 'hay belly' happens - it is a lack of QUALITY protein. Lack of quality protein also affects tissues you can’t see – eg the manufacture of blood components is also compromised and this is why numerous recreational horses are border-line anaemic and have low immune function.


Quality protein is found in seed heads and can be added to feeds. For example using a combination of flaxseed (linseed) and sunflower seeds (At a ratio of 60/40) works well. Premium/Supreme MVA contain the lysine, methionine & threonine to complement the amino acid content of any source of protein.


In simple terms ‘True protein’ consists of the various amino acids linked together with a Nitrogen molecule at either end. Protein that is useful to the horse.


The protein in green, growing plants consists of True Protein + ‘spare nitrogen’ – known as Non-Protein Nitrogen (NPN) which include Nitrates. These are NOT useful to the horse. In fact mono-gastric animals like horses have ZERO requirement for nitrates so their digestive system is not designed to deal with them at all.


Grasses store nitrates in lower regions of stems but lucerne/alfalfa does so in the leaves.

The Crude Protein reading you see on Forage Analyses includes the True Protein + the NPN.

The NPN proportion of the Crude Protein varies with the species of plant, the season and the weather. Nitrates accumulate whenever environmental conditions inhibit growth – eg cool nights, frosts, consecutive cloudy days or droughts. This is why to avoid your horse eating those fresh green shoots after a drought-breaking rain as they are dangerously high in nitrates.


As the plant matures the CP/Nitrate content naturally drops but the seeds contain useful True Protein (without the NPN or nitrate content) hence they are much more suitable for horses.


Horses evolved on the vast grasslands of the northern hemisphere and consuming the mature grass with seed-heads over summer and autumn put on the condition they would need to survive the long hard winter ahead.


It should be noted that cool season grasses are much more prone to high protein NPN content than warm season grasses.


So this is ONE of several good reasons why horses shouldn't be exposed to green vegetative forage ALL YEAR ROUND- especially with the addition of lucerne! The effect is cumulative.


Too much of the unsuitable protein and not enough quality protein is one of the causes of many of the health problems experienced by horse owners.





CHH Ben (above) was in a dreadful state when we picked him up despite being out on plenty of grass. At the time he wasn't being given any supplementary feed.

After several months of no green grass, plenty of hay and a daily feed with good protein and Premium MVA he is a picture of health!

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