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Oil is liquid fat, which is incorporated into many commercial horse feeds, or is used as a top-dress. Can your horse benefit from the added calories?
By: Shannon Pratt-Phillips, Ph.D. | August 28, 2019
Fats, like oils, can be useful additives to the equine diet, mostly as a source of calories (energy), but may also have added benefits for the horse’s coat condition and potential immune benefits.
All fat sources have approximately 9 megacalories (mcal) of digestible energy, which is more than two times the calorie density of corn, oats or most commercial feeds. Therefore, one measuring cup of fat would have significantly more than a measuring cup of grain mix. So a smaller amount of fat (by volume or weight) packs more calories into a diet very efficiently.
This allows you to increase the energy content of a horse’s diet without having to increase their grain meals. When horses have very high energy requirements (show jumpers, eventers, barrel racers and racehorses for example), it may be difficult for them to eat enough hay and grain mix to meet their calorie needs. Furthermore, due to the higher risks of digestive disturbances such as colic that are associated with higher grain intakes, due to their starch and sugar content, replacing some grain calories with fat calories may be a healthier option for your horse. Plus, it should be noted that adding in a cup of oil is likely cheaper than adding in the same energy volume of grain.
An athletic horse also has higher protein, vitamin and mineral needs than can be found in fortified grain mixes, but these increased needs are not to scale with the increased energy needs, and simply feeding more grain mixes to such horses would potentially result in overfeeding some nutrients. It should be noted that athletes that require bursts of power – such as leaving a starting gate or going into a jump-off – do need a good amount of starch and sugar in their diets to produce muscle glycogen, but these needs are typically met with most grain mixes...
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