Why feeding Fibre-Beet and Cooked Linseed together works so well…
Overwintering a horse is a relatively flexible task, as environmental conditions can play an important role. As daylight hours are short, and temperature drops there is a joint requirement to allocate more energy (and possibly heat in the form of mashes) to satisfy heat increment and supply a more nutrient dense regime as daily eating time is less. In short, we need to supply a higher energy supplement to the horse’s forage to maintain condition. Traditionally this may have been in the form of cereals or oils as both are concentrated forms of energy.
However, feeding large amounts of cereal starch can be counterproductive for a number of reasons including impact on insulin sensitivity, excess sugars and starch being fermented in the hindgut, and the problems associated with such conditions as Cushings, IR, laminitis and others. Likewise, a hike in oil to compensate for extra heat loss and shorter days may, being a long-term solution and not easily subject to short term changes in environment, simply result in fatter horses.
During the winter months there are some changes in the hormonal control of metabolism; an evolutionary trait to help sustain the horse during lean times! This, in itself, is helpful in maintaining the horse over winter but the situation reverses in spring to make use of a time of plenty. This means that feeding needs to be reined in as the body becomes more efficient in processing feed. In short, although we feed to compensate for the winter months, slight losses of condition are not a worry as spring feeding will compensate.
So, the simplest way to supplement feed over winter, by providing some extra energy in a flexible way, is to feed a super fibre – I would recommend as a warm mash! It helps maintain body temperature through fermentation, but also supplies the same energy sources as forage. This way condition can be maintained or slightly reduced, and the extra feed merely withdrawn when the grass begins to grow.
However, there will be a group of horses that this regime may not be entirely suitable: The poor doers and those struggling to maintain weight. For these animals the extra challenges of cold days and long, dark nights – even when stabled – could well result in a loss of condition. When this occurs, there is a loss of not only the fat reserves but also protein and, in the latter situation it is likely to be mainly skeletal with some systemic muscle decline. Strangely, in weight loss, it is the protein that is broken down for energy initially, before body fat mobilisation kicks in!
With poor doers, it may be that the provision of a super fibre, such as Speedi-Beet or Fibre-Beet may not be the optimum solution. Although these feeds, especially when soaked in warm water, can maintain internal core temperature both through heat saving, and heat generation by boosting fibre fermentation and at the same time provide extra energy, they may need to be supplemented with a protein/oil combination.
Those struggling to gain weight can benefit from dietary oil; body fat reserves under the skin those rich in omega-3 fatty acids have a role in insulating the horse, but they also have a dietary benefit in improving overall metabolic efficiency by providing the base blocks for regulatory prostaglandins (hormone-like substances). At the same time protein can help. Although just feeding of protein in itself does not guarantee improvement in condition (exercise is needed!), there are some amino acids that help the regeneration of ‘lost’ protein, whilst bioactive substances, such as polyphenols and flavonoids aid muscular recovery by reducing the oxidative stress of inflammatory markers. Weight loss is a stress factor, and this generates inflammation that can delay recovery. By providing a supplementary source, rich in arginine, glutamine and the branched chain amino acids, muscle recovery can be accelerated, helping to improve condition. This enables a feeding strategy for over wintering poor doers, or compromised horses.
Using a super fibre such as Fibre-Beet as a flexible supplement to react to environmental variations, whilst having a base line of Cooked Linseed supplying essential nutrients to support both muscle regeneration and improve the subcutaneous fat reserves but isn’t just a matter of giving a horse a bit of extra protein and oil, the profiles do matter. One of the unique features of linseed is the high proportion of ?-3 fatty acids in the feed, which is an important factor, as well as the ratio between individual amino acids. Coupled with the fibre, which has a fermentation pattern complementary to that of Fibre-Beet, both helping to improve overall dietary fibre digestion, the combination between the two products gives a perfect nutrient profile to improve the condition of susceptible horses over winter.
By Dr Tom Shurlock