Forage Feeding News from the European Workshop in Equine Nutrition 2018 - Part 2

Forage Feeding News from the European Workshop in Equine Nutrition 2018 - Part 2

 Written by: Andrea Ellis PhD, MRSE

The 9th European Workshop in Equine Nutrition took place at SLU in Uppsala, Sweden from the 16-18th August 2018. Following part 1 highlights, here are a few more highlights of what’s being discussed and presented in the professional equine research and nutrition world:

 Session II - Metabolism and Health

The invited speaker, Assist. Prof James Harper from Sam Houston University, USA, introduced the current status of knowledge we have in other species from mice to humans in relation to regulating calorie intake and quality of feed, this time in relation to lifespan and  metabolic health. Calorie restriction has shown to prolong lifespan in most species but how relevant is this for the horse? We seem to have an increase in overweight populations both in humans as well as in many of their companion animals, like dogs, cats and horses.  We can learn from these studies that prevention of obesity and maintaining a good body-condition (4-5 scored out of 9) is imperative for prevention of metabolic conditions and a healthy long life.  Through this a much healthier and more effective immune system is maintained, inflammation is reduced and various conditions directly linked to hyperinflammation can be avoided such as metabolic syndrome (including insulin resistance, laminitis, hypertension) and in humans (artherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes and heart disease).

My take away message – there is a lot of overlap between me and my horses’ nutritional needs: scrap unhealthy take-aways and sweets (sugar lumps for horses), keep high sugar and starch feed to a minimum (any food containing white flour and potatoes for us humans) and ensure our animals are fed close to or slightly below the calculated calorie requirements. Avoid the wrong types of nutrients which can increase inflammatory processes such as sugars and starches. Light to medium exercise is also protective.

2. Following this Maria Wilhelmson presented a survey on the current feeding practices of horse owners across Europe and including some owners from the USA. She also wanted to establish if their knowledge and understanding of feeding translates into actual practice. Sweden, UK & Ireland came out top with their knowledge as well as translating this into practice providing very good levels of forage or/and grass/turnout for their horses, North-America sat in the ‘middle’, while Germany came out bottom in turning horses out on grass or level of forage feeding.

My take away message – Although, over 70% of horse owners described their horses as leisure animals, the use of concentrate feed was still too high. However, many fed very low levels, possibly just to be a ‘vehicle’ to balance the diet with supplements, so that is good news. To balance a diet properly you should consult an equine nutritionist or do a ration calculation. 

3. Anna Garber presented a study from her PhD work at the University of Glasgow. She measured changes to the equine microbiome (a summary term for all the little critters – bacteria/protozoa/fungi - in the equine gut, which are so important to maintain good gut-health and help with nutrient digestion) – when suddenly moving from hay to grassland and return back to hay. As predicted a sudden change in microbial populations occurred especially in the first few days.

My take away message – Although avoiding sudden changes seems ‘old hat’, this study showed that even when turning out horses only once a week while feeding conserved forage in between is not ideal and this underlines the latest recommendations that horses should have daily access to turnout/grass, even if just for a couple of hours to avoid sudden changes when turning out on weekends.

4. Louise Lautsen, from the University of Liverpool, presented a study which aimed to reduce the occurrence of faecal water in horses, which have suffered from this for a long while. Louise and her team of researchers wanted to test the theory that this is something to do with the microbial population in the hindgut. So they measured the effect of introducing a ‘whole new set’ of microbiota into the affected horses by using faecal matter from ‘non-suffering’ horses.  Results were promising, reducing the occurrence and severity considerably.

Take Away Message: There seems to be a possible link between the hindgut microbiota and faecal water occurrence. In a survey on management of horses with faecal water in Northern Europe, presented by Louise Lautsen, changing from wrapped forages (haylages) to hay showed a positive effect in 63% of horses, and this also points towards changes in microbiota in the hindgut.  Developing a ‘faecal transplant protocol’ may help in severe cases, however we need more research to try and prevent this problem in the first place. Feeding correct amounts and quality of forage can only help in that respect. 

5. Rebecca Bushell, University of Edinburgh, presented a survey on feeding senior horses. This established actual feeding practices both in horse owners with senior horses (from ages 16-35 years old) as well as the advice given by veterinarians and equine dentists. Horses start to loose teeth from the age of 20 and it is advised to adjust feed accordingly. Most horse owners do not start to adjust feed until weight loss occurs. Regular dental checks and getting nutritional advice from a trained nutritionist is advised.

Take Away Message: Even senior horses need mainly fibre, initially chopping and later, as tooth-loss progresses, soaking forage pellets to make a mash will help. Feeding at least 4 times a day, away from ‘competition’ can keep an aged horse in pretty good condition. These horses are also mostly turned out on pasture.

6. Prof Meriel Moore-Colyer presented Abbey Hookey’s Masters research at the Royal Agricultural University, which looked at the effect of soaking and/or steaming on reducing the water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content in various hays. This is necessary for horses which require a low WSC diet (less than 120g/kg dry matter) due to health issues, such as metabolic syndrome or previous laminitis episodes. Soaking has been shown to successfully reduce WSC level if soaked long enough, but the negative side of this is that it increases bacteria and mould contamination and leads to a loss in important vitamins and minerals, as well as polluting the environment with the discarded water. Hay species showed some individual effects with perennial rye grass showing the least promising reduction and meadow hay the highest reduction.
Take Away Message: Soak and steam showed the best results in relation to WSC loss while keeping bacteria to a minimum. This highlights that nutrient analysis after treatments may be advised for the particular batch of hay you use, if your horse required low WSC hays for health reasons. 

7. Dr Simon Daniels from the Royal Agricultural University, UK presented a study on the effect of treating forage using the Haygain Steamer in comparison to soaking on bacterial populations in the samples. This study confirmed that steaming reduces the contamination with bacteria considerably, while soaking may actually increase it, this study also showed that there is great individuality between different hay batches.



All from Proceedings of the 9th European Workshop on Equine Nutrition, Uppsala 2018, Sweden

James Harper: Why restricted diets increase life span – potential mechanisms.

Maria Wilhelmsson, Malin Olson, Maximilian Plank, Bryony Lancaster and Andrea D. Ellis: Does horse owner understanding of forage feeding reflect feeding practices: A survey on 4548 horse owners in Europe and North America.

Anna Garber, Peter Hastie, David Mcguinness, Pauline Malarange and Jo-Anne Murray: Equine faecal microbial population dynamics following abrupt dietary changes of two forage-only diets: pasture and hay.

Katrin Lindroth, Jan Erik Lindberg and Cecilia Mueller:  Free faecal liquid in horses – a survey of feeding routines and feedstuffs for affected horses.

Louise Lautsen, Joan Edwards, Hauke Smidt, David van Doorn and Nanna Luthersson: Assessment of faecal microbiota transplantation on horses suffering from free faecal water.

Rebecca Bushell, Bryony Lancaster, Jo-Anne Murray and Andrea D. Ellis: Senior Equine dental degeneration and impact on nutrition: a survey of nutritional management and advice

Abby Hookey and Meriel Moore-Colyer: The effect of different steaming treatments on the water-soluble carbohydrate content in UK produced Timothy, Perennial Ryegrass and Meadow hays.

Jacob Hepworth, Simon Daniels and Meriel Moore-Colyer: The haybiome: characterizing microbiota profiles of dry, soaked and high temperature steamed hays.


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