Posts Tagged ‘NRC’

percents, percents, percentsI was thinking about who gets to control the standards, the terms, the customs. How do things start and take hold. Why do we refuse to accept some new ideas and are quick to incorporate others. My guess would be it all comes back to a comfort level, or following the lead of someone you believe to be smarter than yourself.

I ponder this whenever I think about feed and it’s terminology. In the horse world, we talk percents. What percent protein, what percent fat? Never heard anyone say a horse should take in 20% moisture. (that’s a fake figure folks, don’t get excited.)

Percents all have to relate to something and are useless by themselves.  Horses, by the way, have yet to figure out how to eat a percentage, they eat nutrients that weigh something. So do we. I need about 40 grams of protein a day. I can count it up by the grams of protein listed on all my foods. Sometimes they will tell me it is X% of my daily allotment of protein, but it always has the actual grams listed. The FDA requires it on the labels.

Feed manufactures have to list the protein content too, but they always do it as a percentage. Why did the “powers” decide to do it that way? It’s a pretty easy calculation to figure the grams per cup or pound of the feed. It would make it a lot easier to determine if you are giving a horse enough or too much of a nutrient.

So why and when did feed mills initiate the use of percentages? Did it start a thousand years ago when horses only ate oats – did every horse get the same amount of oats? Is that it? Did it work centuries ago and just never changed? Why do we still hold onto the concept? Why to we rate the value of the feed according to its protein percent? People say a higher protein makes a horse hot in spirit. But is that true? Is it the protein or the fact that the grain used for the higher protein also has more calories or sugar? It seems we are very focused on nutrition for our animals- a good thing- but still dealing with antiquated terms and ideas.

And while we are preening ourselves for our choice of protein percentage, do we really know anything about the quality of protein we are feeding. Not all proteins are equal, and different proteins are more important for different life cycles.

The protein amount on the feed label is determined by the amount of nitrogen produced in a standard test. Well, there are a lot of things that can produce nitrogen, including urea, which is really cheap and useless in the horse’s body and melamine, which is really cheap and tends to kill animals. Urea and melamine in a feed is a cheap way to produce a target protein percent on the label.

This brings me to another point of confusion. Why are we so focused on protein? No argument that bodies need it, but the body needs it for growth, reproduction and repair, not energy or bulk. So sick horses, mommies-to-be, nursing mommies, and growing foals need protein considerations. The rest of the horses are probably going to get enough protein out in the field or from their hay. Protein is not going to make them run faster, jump higher, pull harder, or slide longer. In fact if a horse has to use protein for fuel he’s at a real disadvantage; it takes longer to convert, gives less energy, and creates a lot more heat.

But let’s get back to relying on the protein percent on the feed label. If we want to do it right, we need to figure out how many ounces or grams of protein our horse needs to eat daily. I can hardly feed my guys anything without them blowing up like ticks.  I have to severely restrict the amount of food they eat. I need a feed with a really high percentage of protein, because I can’t feed them much, they are going to get a cup, not a quart. My neighbor runs 3-day events on Thoroughbred horses. They eat 12 quarts of grain a day and alfalfa. They can do with a lower percent of protein because they are eating more.

If a pound of horse feed is 10% protein then each pound has 1.6 ounces of protein in it. But we need that number in grams, which will be apparent in a moment. Every ounce is equal to 28.35 grams. So grams times ounces, that pound of 10% protein feed is giving my horse 45.36 grams of protein.

The very important part of the feed puzzle is the nutrient requirements of horses. The Bible on this is the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses, sixth edition. You can find their reference charts reprinted in feed books, or contact a mill like Purina or go to your library.

My 800-pound horse in moderate work needs 614 grams of crude protein a day. The NRC doesn’t tell us what percentage of the diet should be protein because it doesn’t know what or how much we are feeding our horses. They are respecting our intelligence, pocketbooks, and resources. I wonder if we are doing the same to ourselves.

So I have to figure out how much protein is in my horse’s grain, his hay, and do some hemming and hawing on the pasture to determine if he is getting enough or too much protein.  8% hay, okay that’s 8% of every pound or 1.28 ounces but he eats 4 pounds a day so that’s 5.12 ounces of protein per day – each ounce equals 28.35 grams so 5.12 times 28.35 equals 145.15 grams of protein from hay. Hmm, he’s an air fern. I can’t feed him a lot of grain, or much more hay, he can get too fat. This is when I see the value of a 32% protein pellet that is feed by the cups (ounces) not pounds. Well, I think you see where this is headed.

I think I may have answered my own question here. People really like things to be simple. It’s a lot simpler to say “give me a bag of that 10% protein feed,” then to consider all the other aspects of the protein puzzle.

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Just a reminder that elections are coming; vote horse friendly

Just a reminder that elections are coming; vote horse friendly

In the past 40+ years we have learned an awful lot about horses’ health. Colic surgery, which was all but unheard of, has pretty high success rate numbers. Wounds have better potions, lotions, and dressings. There are many newer and more effective vaccines and we have made Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA, what the Coggins test is for) a side issue instead of the dominant state it held in the ‘40s.

But we still don’t know a lot, and what’s amazing, when you listen to us talk, is that we don’t know we don’t know! The snake oil is still out there and out there with endorsements, official looking labels and massive amounts of shelf space.

I was reminded of all this recently at a Rutgers Equine Science Center meeting. Rutgers is not a veterinary college, but is involved in a large number of equine studies. Their aim is prevention rather than cure and they have done a lot of research on performance enhancing drugs and nutrition.

What don’t we know about what we do? Lasix is a good example. The race industry sought a cure for bleeding out the nose during a race. Blood dripping out the nose or wandering around the lungs gets in the way of air-flow and you need every hemoglobin molecule to deliver oxygen during a race. Lasix became the miracle cure. But there was still evidence of bleeding.

Dr. Kenneth McKeever of the Rutgers Equine Science Center

Dr. Kenneth McKeever of the Rutgers Equine Science Center

Enter Dr. Kenneth McKeever, who is massively tall, you know when he has entered a room. He and the Rutgers Equine Science Center started doing treadmill studies on how Lasix works. Turns out it doesn’t harm the horse –– doesn’t stop the bleeding either. But it does act as a diuretic, dropping pounds of water before a race so the horse runs lighter and faster. Voila! Now everyone uses lasix to make a faster running horse, or you could just watch the animal’s water consumption pre-race.But people still think Lasix stops bleeding.

The evidence for clenbuterol and albuterol was different. The medication was found (being used off label) to build a horse faster, so a yearling would look like a 2-year-old and fetch a better asking price. McKeever again researched the evidence. He found that indeed it does build a bigger horse, with a faulty heart. So while that horse looks like a prime athlete its performance will suffer and the very real possibility of a heart attack looms.

Now let’s look at those shelves of nutraceuticles and advertisements from feed producers. NRC 6th editionLet’s step into the world of the National Research Council. They are the defining body of nutrition requirements for humans and animals in the U.S. and many other countries. All the information on the foods in your refrigerator is based on the NRC requirements. The  equine folks over there (all with extensive initials after their names) review the world-wide base of scientific research. They look at the quality of the research, size of study and consistency among results. They’re good at what they do. So it was a wake-up call in March of 2008 when I attended a conference addressing the most recent revisions to the equine recommendations. Dr. Laurie Lawrence, chair of the project, started by saying how little they actually know about the equine’s metabolism and use of nutrients compared to other livestock.

The reason is simple; we don’t feed and euthanize horses to study nutritional effects. It is a moral taboo. Despite the outcry of horses used for human consumption in other parts of the world, it would appear it is not a significant dietary mainstay, because worldwide there is a dearth of information on nutritional effects on a horse.

Progress is being made. Clever scientists and better imaging equipment are allowing peaks into blood markers and invisible organs. But it is still expensive to run trials on horses because it is expensive to keep horses. So progress is slow. When engaged in “What do you feed” talks, it always makes me stop and ask “how do we know this.” The answer is usually because the trainer, who is on the Olympic list, or the feed supplier said so. Alas, thhey have no initials behind their name. And vet schools are just now catching up on the nutrition angle, but they can’t teach what isn’t known.

If we really want the scoopy on that new feed or additive it is worth a call to an equine nutritionist associated with a university or the government. Ask them if research has been done on the component in question. If the answer is no, you may still decide to use the product, no doesn’t always mean bad, just that we have no idea how the component affects the animal. Sometimes, though, no can mean danger – you get to decide.

But at least you will be able to smile and listen to others talk and know what we don’t know.

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