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The 8th British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) Feed Conference saw the
Professor Meriel Moore-Colyer from the Royal Agricultural college started the day with her lecture “All about Forage; choices, decisions and recommendations”.
The importance of a healthy gut was discussed, with time budget being an important aspect. Horses spend 10-15 hours a day eating and it takes around 58-75 minutes per kilogram (kg), based on feeding 2% body weight of 650kg horse this is the equivalent of 13 kg of forage eaten over an 11 hour period which is perfect for gut health. However, if you have a smaller horse, or an overweight horse then how do you ensure the same time budgets are met? Slow feeders are an excellent way to do this, as they increase the time it takes to eat a given amount of forage.
The flow into the stomach is another important part of gut health. When horses eat hay it takes them around 3500-4500 chews per kg which means a lot of saliva is produced and as the forage itself is alkaline this all helps to buffer stomach acid.
A healthy hind gut microbiome was then considered and how hay-based only diets result in a higher diversity and richness in healthy gut bacteria than those that included cereals. There are two feed characteristics that affect the hind gut microbiome, nutrient and hygiene quality of the feed. An interesting point was that it depends where the nutrients are degraded and absorbed, some crude protein from some forage sources is not digested in the small intestine as expected but Professor Moore-Colyer pointed out this is not a negative finding, this protein feeds the gut bacteria in the hind gut and keeps them happy and healthy!
The hygiene quality of hay is also important not just because of the airborne respirable dust affecting the respiratory system but the forage could contain pathogens, anti-nutritional factors and upset the microbiome balance. Professor Moore Colyer warned against soaking hay because it is well proven to decrease the hygienic quality of hay. Recent work from PhD student Samuel White which will be published later this year at the European Workshop for quine Nutrition has highlighted that soaking hay not only increases bacteria in general but particular pathogenic bacterias. Instead, high temperature steaming was recommended as a pre-feeding treatment of hay and haylage.
Professor Catherine McGowen gave an interesting lecture on “Changes in our understanding of laminitis”. She started off by pointing out that laminitis is a sign of a disease not the disease itself. Laminitis is inflammation of the lamelle and leads to degradation of the attachments between the hoof wall and coffin bone. She warned it can be occurring for a long time before the horse is clinically lame and advised horse owners to watch out for divergent rings; rings around the hoof wall as this is indicative of changes inside.
There are three causes of laminitis:
1. Inflammatory – very sick horses can develop laminitis
2. Weight bearing laminitis – when an injury in one leg refers all the weight onto the opposite leg and causes laminitis in that foot.
3. Endocrine – horse predisposed with cushings, EMS.
There is some evidence that medicating steroids can lead to laminitis but this usually only happens in horses at risk of laminitis anyway. Endocrine laminitis is the most common and is often due to insulin resistance, they don’t necessarily have to be fat but obesity is a risk/exacerbating factor.
Professor Pat Harris lectured on Gastric Ulcers: Nutrition associated recent developments. From a nutritional aspect the risk factors for ulcers are now well known; more than 6 hours between eating forage, more than 1g starch/kg bodyweight per meal, no water during paddock turn out and straw as the only available forage.
Professor Harris described a study that looked at 99 horses, 76 were found to have ulcers and a study on foals found 84% had ulcers before weaning, 100% had ulcers after weaning which we thought were scary statistics!
The final take home message was that although omeprazole is an effective treatment in most cases, unless changes to the diet are made to meet the gut health needs described by Professor Moore -Colyer earlier in the day then the ulcers will return.
Ben Mayes, past president of the British Equestrian Veterinary Association (BEVA) explained how BEVA works with other professionals in the equine industry to work towards better education and ultimately horse health. He said that together BETA and BEVA make up over half of the equine industry and we have a joint responsibility to ensure all horses get the appropriate care and management.
All in all it was a very interesting day combining an update on the science of feeding with some industry news and advice. Thank you BETA for a thought-provoking conference.