I 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.