La Sard
Dnes je: 30. 11. 2021 svátek má: Ondřej
 
DIGESTIVE TRACT AND TECHNIQUE OF FEEDING

"Love goes through the belly"
This Czech saying tested time and time again is true not only in human relationships, but also in relationships between people and animals. Although all breeders and owners speak of their darlings with much love and caring, their horses' stomachs rarely know this.

ZThe basic problem of horse nutrition is the lack of knowledge about the horse's true needs, then it is too much attention paid to the price of the feed, regardless of its quality and nutritional value. Also tradition and habits of some "old hands" or the fierce marketing massage are really not the guidelines of a responsible owner and breeder.
The evolution of knowledge in animal nutrition has advanced sharply in the last fifty years and therefore the arguments of some breeders, who say that they feed their horses as their predecessors did before and that no more is needed, are now seriously out of date. For comparison, it is important to appreciate the huge progress in animal related production, particularly in the feeding industry where the consumption of feed per unit of production has reduced by 50% in the last half-century.
Of course, with horses we are interested in different indexes than with chickens and pigs, the principle though is the same. Better-quality, or more suitable, feed always means better results, whether we monitor physical performance, reproductive characteristics or health and longevity.
Feeding better doesn't have to mean larger expenses, more costly components or more mineral or vitamin supplements. But it most surely means to know more.

DIGESTIVE TRACT
Horses are, like their relatives, zebras and donkeys non-ruminant herbivores. Under similar conditions they have analogically similar feeding habits, customs and needs.
Their digestive tract, unlike that of ruminant herbivores (cattle, sheep, goats, deer), after thorough mechanical disruption with the teeth in the mouth, processes the received food chemically and enzymatically - with hydrochloric acid, organic acids and with enzymes produced by the animal. These are particularly saliva, stomach and digestive juices of the small intestine and the pancreas. In the stomach and the small intestine the large majority of organic nutrients are split and then absorbed. Proteins are decomposed into shorter chains (peptides) or into individual amino acids, fats into glycerol and fatty acids, complex sugars - starch into simpler sugars, disaccharides and monosaccharides. Next, the rest is processed in the large intestine and the cecum. In this enormous biochemical sac further decomposition is done by billions of yeast, bacteria and protozoa. Their enzymes transform the so far unprocessed food into organic acids, vitamins (particularly into groups B and K) and into absorbable forms of mineral substances. Also, these microorganisms create a valuable protein from their own bodies. Furthermore, water and a significant volume of gas are created.

Furthermore, the size proportions of the digestive tract and therefore the way of food consumption is different from ruminants. Horses have a relatively small stomach, from 5 to 15 or 20 litres whereas the volume of the cecum and the large intestine is about six times larger. This means, that horses can receive a large amount of feed, but not in a short space of time. Particularly a fast consumption of hard feed rich in sugars can cause, because of microbial changes in the cecum and large intestine, serious health problems that can be fatal.

The received feed stays in the stomach relatively shortly, from three to nine hours, whereas the passage through the gut is substantially longer, more than twenty hours. The time of passage depends particularly on the biodegradability of the feed. Generally, it can be said that the more lignen, fibre and other more difficult to digest aliments a feed contains, the longer it stays in the gut.

TECHNIQUES OF FEEDING
Horses are genetically programmed to eat small amounts of food all day, originally almost exclusively fodder. Their diet depended on the season, for most of the year horses ate primarily grasses and herbs with high contents of fibre. Wild equine ancestors were small, hardy and tough with a hard constitution. They didn't resemble our nowadays fine horses very much and in measurable performance (speed, strength, agility, endurance) they are no match. However, they survived and bred.

After horses were domesticated they had to deal with different demands and they were formed by different selection. Breeders selected animals that were the most suitable in appearance, qualities or performance. And soon the most observant and also the most successful breeders realised that just as horses serves men, men must serve horses. They discovered the basic relationship: the better the feed, the better the performance.

Today we know that quality is an abstract notion that becomes significant only in concrete situations. Good-quality feed for a weaned foal is absolutely unsuitable for a race horse in full training. To feed well means to know a particular animal's needs and to administer nutriments in the feed.

A horse's needs are determined mainly its weight and age, current level of fitness, breed, health condition, climatic conditions, mode of use and workload. Based on this a diet is composed. That must suit our demands for a good price and the horse's taste just as much it must correspond to the demands for usability and general dietetic composition. Even the best calculated feed dose is useless if the horse doesn't eat it.

The suitability and practicability of individual feeds is influenced by different forms of processing, such as pressing, scrapping, soaking, granulating and extruding. Some of the frequently used feeds without former specific processing are not only indigestible but also toxic. An example for all is soy which contains antinutritional substances that not only reduce the digestibility but in large quantities they can lead to poisoning. These substances are thermolabile, so when heated they decompose into harmless compounds.

On the contrary, facilitating the fast consumption of larger amounts of hard feed by soaking it, if that isn't done for health reasons (like respiratory problems that demand a reduction in dust), to improve the taste (to improve consumption) or for feed reasons (some types of hay swell and expand), leads to a negative effect because this way of feeding accelerates the consumption of food, reduces the creation of saliva and the mechanical processing. Also the speed of passage through the stomach and small intestine grows, the resorption of sugars and protein reduces. The composition of the gut micro flora is also influenced. Furthermore, soaking horse feed has no significance in comparison with the total amount of water received or volume of liquids in the gut.

So that the feed dosage, determined with much difficulty, leads to the desired effect, people must use the right feeding technique, comprising the mode and frequency of feeding along with a suitable order of individual feeds, because it is not only the horse that we are feeding but also vast numbers of microorganisms that must live together in balance. For that reason all changes in a herbivore's diet must be gradual and slower than for an omnivore (humans, pigs) or a carnivore.

For all horses of all categories and levels of workload it is true that small and frequent amounts of food are better than the opposite. This rule unfortunately doesn't suit people who keep and feed horses. It is very important for horses to follow a regular daily routine and to eat at the same time of the day. The break between meals shouldn't exceed 12 hours. When feeding less than three times a day the only acceptable compromise is pasture lasting at least six hours. Pasture is not only a suitable way of receiving food (small amounts over a long period of time), it represents also a rest for the mind and an active physical respite.

The last step is the necessary feedback between the breeder (trainer, rider, owner) and the person who planned the diet. It is important to react carefully to changes in fitness and performance and make changes accordingly. Horses were and are selected to respond to different demands than other agricultural animals and therefore they have higher individual variability in their nutrition needs.
Ing. Miroslav Drásal



  
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