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What Is Protein in a Horses Diet?

Recently when I have been out on the road or attending events with work, a common question I am asked is, what is protein in a horses diet? Today is my day at the desk, so I decided to pop a short blog together to explain in a bit more detail, protein is vital for a healthy diet for horses.

Why is Protein important for horses?

In recent years, the protein levels in horse feed have become a popular topic, to ensure that the horse is getting the correct amount of protein based on the amount of work the horse is delivering. I have briefly outlined below some factual information about all things Protein!

What is Protein?

Protein is a long chain molecule made up of amino acids. There are 22 amino acids and they are divided into 2 groups, essential and nonessential amino acids. The non-essential amino acids are produced by the horse’s body whereas essential amino acids must be provided through the diet.

Essential Amino Acids

  1. Lysine
  2. Methionine
  3. Histidine
  4. Isoleucine
  5. Arginine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine
  10. Leucine

Lysine is most commonly found to be short in a horse’s diet. It has many roles including absorption of calcium, development of collagen, production of antibodies, synthesis of carnitine and stimulation of gastric juices.

Methionine is also often low and has many key roles including the strengthening of collagen, keratinisation of hooves, detoxification of the liver and selenium bioavailability.

Is all Protein the same?

All protein is not the same. Protein quality is determined by the type and amount of amino acid it contains and the digestibility of the protein source. Soyabean meal has the highest biological value and has a 48% protein content on an as fed basis. Forages and grain horse feed are naturally lower in lysine and methionine, whereas soya is naturally high. All Connolly’s RED MILLS horse feed include soya as a protein source for optimum growth and performance of your horses. Linseed, sunflower seed meal, and alfalfa are also good sources of protein for the horse.

Why is Protein important for horses?

  • Muscle Development
  • Nutrient Transport
  • Regulation of the metabolism and immune system

Protein is a vital nutrient in the horse and has a number important roles as listed above. It is a major component of the body forming muscle, skin, tendons, blood vessels, bone hair, and hoof. Proteins also are used to build and repair body tissue, and help carry oxygen around the body. They also form antibodies to combat invading bacteria and viruses.

However, protein requirements are related to the age and workload of the horse. Intake of protein needs to meet the demand for both growth and exercise. Young growing horses and broodmares need the most protein while mature performance horses will require less protein.

For example, an average 500kg lactating broodmare with a newborn foal will require 1535 grams of protein, a yearling will 846 grams of protein and a sports horse in medium work will require 699 grams of protein per day. When looking at the protein in the diet it is important to look at the protein content in the feed (a 10% protein feed = 100g protein per 1 kg) and from the forage (hay, haylage, and grass).

I hope that this information has given you a good insight into Protein, and why it is such an important part of the horse’s diet. If you need any more information or have a specific question please ask one of our nutritionist experts.

  • Tags:
  • Horses
  • Essential Amino Acids
  • Horses Diet
  • Protein