Hay and Grass Analysis for Horses

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Problems related with bad hay quality

We shall discuss a number of problems related with bad quality roughage. First of all, we will have to describe ‘ bad roughage’. Without mentioning the usual conditions like ‘ moldy’ or ‘old’ , we refer to the problems caused by modern agricultural practices:
  • high energy
  • high protein
  • high sugar
  • high manganese
  • high phosphorus
  • high potassium
  • low fibre
  • low zinc
  • low copper
  • low magnesium
  • low sodium
For more information about feeding the horse in the sport click here

For more information about the diseases and treatments you can look at the web site of our Veterinarian Practice Bio Mentor : www.biomentor.org

Insulin resistance, overweight, cresty neck

Forages high in simple sugars, will lead to a rise in insulin, because of the increased glucose blood level. Insulin ‘ opens the sugar door’  of the muscle cell and liver cell. If these cells are ‘full’, the remaining sugar will be transformed in fat and stored in the fat cell, thereby forming fat depots (tail base, mane base). These deposits of fat influence the insulin activity negative, i.o.w there is more insulin needed to keep the cell door open.
This is ‘ insulin resistance’ . In people, the blood sugar will also rise (diabetes type 2), in horses the sugar level stays (high) normal.

Shortages of zinc and magnesium also cause a worsening of insulin activity (e.g. more insulin needed to open the same door), causing an increasing rate of fat accumulation.
Excess iron counteracts the action of insulin sensitising elements, further compromising sugar metabolism. Insulin resistance leads to more iron absorption from the gut.....and magnesium  is ‘tackled‘  by the excessive potassium, creating more fuel for the derailment of carbohydrate metabolism.

Sensitive feet and laminitis

Walking sensitive on hard irregular surfaces, is often a ‘ light version’  of laminitis (see also ‘sole horn quality’  and ‘coffin bone sinking’ ).
Above mentioned insulin resistance causes a bad blood circulation in the feet and starvation of the laminae regarding sugar. This will cause the laminae to swell, inflame and become necrotic. The stress hormones adrenalin and cortisone will worsen these effects.
The above mentioned characteristics of production grass are a receipt for laminitis in most ponies. However,  also warm breeds and quarters on a ration of rich silage and concentrates often walk sensitive and can develop full blown laminitis.

The high amounts of digestible fibre will give rise to release of non-digestible carbohydrates in the hindgut. These so called fructans are also abundant in production grass. This is food for lactobacillae which will ferment these sugars very rapid, causing acidification, release of toxins, gut wall deterioration and finally inflammation of the laminae. This resembles ‘overeating cereals’.
However, the role of fructans in the pathogeneses of laminitis is disputable (Dr. Kellon: ‘ Fructanes, should we worry’) .

Copper and zinc are part of many important processes in the body. They play significant roles in the production of antioxidants as for instance the enzyme superoxide dismutase. If zinc and copper are deficient themselves and in addition they are counteracted by high levels of iron/manganese, the laminae will be weakened further. The connection between coffin bone and hoof wall can become so weak that the coffin bone will sink in the capsule.  Initially, ‘sinking’ can cause sensitivity due to compression of the solar corium. Other contributory causes of sinking, like flaring walls, should also be addressed of course.

Colics and diarrhoea

Not seldom we see boxed horses, fed on silage, with brown rims on their box wall.
High raw protein can contain non protein products like ammonia or nitrate. Excess ureum excreted in the urine is converted in ammonia. Excess N containing compounds arriving in the hindgut will disturb the micro-organisms, with as possible result the selection of clostridial bacteria, which produce gas and toxic substances.

White line disease, hoofabcesses, wall tears, thrush, canker.

The loosened connection between coffin bone and wall and weak horn quality results in flaring of the wall. Flaring causes mechanical stretching of the laminae. This weak connection was already present due to insufficient circulation and glucose deprivation, caused by IR and further enhanced by lack of zinc and copper (see later).
The stretched and weakened white line is vulnerable for impaction by stones and dirt, thus predisposing the tissue for damage and infection. This port of entrance leads to bacterial/fungal infections (white line disease, abscesses) and on frog level to thrush and cancker.
A practical implication of this is, that if we there is an abscess or white line problem, we are looking back in time; sometimes it is difficult to make the connection of having fed mouldy silage three months ago and the abscess now.

Zinc and copper are building stones for a strong hoof wall. Zinc will ensure that cells are ‘ glued’ together and copper is needed for the formation of horn by building sulfur bridges in protein. As mentioned before zinc and copper are counteracted by high iron/manganese.

So we have a whole range of foot diseases with one common ‘root’  cause: bad roughage. Dairy people made this connection already years ago.

Bleached, dull hair coat

Iron in excess can damage tissue. It is a so called pro-oxidant. Together with hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicle, aggressive hydroxyl compounds emerge, which will damage the follicle. Bleaching is the result.
The (low and suppressed) copper is needed for the functioning of the enzyme tyrosinase, which makes the pigment melanin. No copper - no melanin - no pigment.

Trauma sensitivity, developmental bone diseases

A low copper status  suppresses the enzyme lysiloxidase. This enzyme strengthens connective tissue and elastine molecules in bone and tendons. Tendon tissue will become strong and elastic, less prone to damage by taxing forces. Also, bone and cartilage will be more deformable and pliable. Splint bone fractures in trotters will not occur, when on good balanced roughage and short feet. OCD will not be condemned as an inherited condition but as a result of a faulty feeding practices. The low zinc will impair the installation of zinc molecules in bone tissue, by suppressing the enzyme camodulin. Weak bones will follow.

The low magnesium status will lead to muscle tension and stiffness. The hardened, non elastic tendons will also ‘ not give’ when under strain. Bone is weakened....something has to break....

Itching and skin lesions

As mention before iron acts as a pro-oxidant, damaging tissue. Zinc and copper cannot play their protecting role. The insulin resistance will cut off blood and glucose supply, causing local ischemia and necrosis.
If the germinative layer of the skin is damaged, improper cells are formed. The connecting and protecting layer of skin cells is not present and sebaceous - and sweat glands produce abnormal excretions. The skin flora is disturbed. The way is open for bacterial an fungal organisms to attack and weaken the skin barrier even more. Blood contact will follow and inflammation and secretion will attract insects.
The fatty deposits are very fragile and very prone to oxidation. Also they are deposits for toxic substances. Leakage of toxins and  inflammation products will attract even more insects and rubbing will start.

Susceptibility to disease

We slowly discover that iron has his finger in the pie anywhere. His faithful accomplice is manganese. The human literature is full of the effect of excess iron on the course of infectious diseases. Harmful bacteria thrive on iron, for example, while zinc deficiency further undermines the immune system. Copper deficiency has a similar negative effect as zinc deficiency. For example, white blood cells use copper as a kind of catapult ammunition against harmful bacteria.
Copper is very essential for the functioning of our nervous system. Mad cow disease could be caused by copper deficiency. Organophosphates have been used mandatory against the cows warble fly as a pour-on application. The insect agent chelates (say: bind) copper, and polyvalent manganese fills the empty place in the central nervous system, with disastrous consequences ....
The causative agent of Lyme disease is a manganese enthusiast. Unfortunately, this metal is often very high  in our investigated forages.
The major negative effects of too much iron, manganese, sugar and protein weaken our immune system. Unfortunately, too few 'antagonists'  are available to archieve a balance.

ADHD behavior, cramped muscles, skin vibrations, aggressiveness, feeling jittery, skewness

The excess of potassium (often 10x  too much) and salt deficiency in the forages has a similar impact on our animals. This was  evident in patients of our practice with IR-like symptoms, compared to patients investigated for other reasons. Potassium was always above normal and sodium was often too low.
Potassium and sodium are involved in the conduction of stimuli along our nerves. The imbalance of K: Na leads to a continuous increase in excitability of nerve tissue, causing muscles to become more energized. This is reinforced by the exisiting magnesium deficiency. Magnesium has on muscles a relaxating effect, while potassium and calcium have tensioning effects.
The brain nervous tissue gets also overstimulated by fore mentioned imbalancies, reinforced by overly abundant present sugars.

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