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Feeding Oil

Why is it good for our horses?

Lipids (oils & fats) are an integral part of the body’s physiology and biochemistry. They are present, structurally, in cell membranes, intracellular structures and as insulators for connective tissue and nerve fibres. They are precursors for some hormones, such as the prostaglandins. Additionally lipids are the only true long term energy reserves, stored in dedicated cells, from which they can be rapidly mobilised to meet increases in energy demands.
These energy demands may be in terms of a higher level of activity, increased heat production during cold weather, or to make up a shortfall when dietary input drops (limited or low energy feed). If fat is not present then the body will start to break down protein – glucose stores (glycogen) are very limited and will soon be used up in adverse conditions. Lipids also act as insulation for the whole body (fat reserves lying under the skin act as blanket) and improve the conformity of the horse.

Does it matter what type of oil?

In terms of general daily supplementation the answer is probably no. “Probably”, because lipid utilisation, metabolism and the supply of essential fatty acids is extremely complex and influenced by a large number of factors, including the gut environment.

Basically the majority of dietary oils are triglycerides. Triglycerides are 3 fatty acids attached to a glycerol body, and the individual fatty acids can vary from short to long chain molecules, with or without unsaturated bonds. For example boiled linseed oil will have no unsaturated fatty acids (the boiling cause’s hydrogenation) whilst some fish oils have high levels of very long chain, highly unsaturated fatty acids. Oat oil has unsaturated fatty acids, but these bonds are unstable and will quickly go rancid.

A simple vegetable oil will provide reasonable levels of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, including the omega 3 & 6 (position of the unsaturated bonds along the fatty acid chain) that is being promoted as the “heart healthy” type. However high levels of omega 6 has a negative effect on bone growth, whilst conjugated linoleic acid (found in milk fat, and therefore regarded as bad) has some very beneficial properties.

Linseed, soya, sunflower & rapeseed are all good sources of “standard” oil.

How important is oil?

Lipids have a central position in the metabolic pathways in the horse. As such, as well as being broken down to provide energy when needed, they can also be biosynthesised when energy intake exceeds output. Fermentation end products of fibre degradation, the volatile fatty acids, glucose and sugar metabolism and protein catabolism can all be diverted to fatty acid and triglycerol production, but there are some essential fatty acids (EFA’s) that are required in the diet. These EFA’s have a role outside the storage and production of energy, such as forming the lipo-protein layers of the cell membranes, structures of microsomes and nuclei. In addition non triglyceride lipids, such as tocopherol, have roles as antioxidants whilst others are utilised in a range of hormonal structures and functions

Can we feed too much?

Yes. As with any nutrient it is possible to feed too much. Perhaps the unique feature about lipids is that feeding too much of anything can result in laying down of fat. A certain amount of oil is essential, more is desirable, but too much can result in a fat horse and this can lead to other, nutritional based, diseases.

When the biochemistry of the horse is directed to fat deposition the efficiency of this process increases to a point where it is preferential and if extra energy is required (dieting for example), protein will be broken down before fat mobilisation occurs.

As with any other nutritional rule, moderation is the key. A daily intake of 2-5% of feed as oil is sufficient for most situations, increasing slightly for the onset of winter, or where a moderate to heavy level of activity is anticipated.

What’s a good alternative to oil? 

Depending on the source, oil has Digestible Energy levels of 20-38 Mj/kg. This compares to a typical value of 8Mj/kg for hay, 12-14Mj/kg for super fibres and 9-11Mj/kg for cereals. On the face of it there is no viable alternative.

However it is more than likely that the majority of energy requirements can be fulfilled using a combination of cereal and fibre, especially if super fibres are considered. It is actually impossible to feed a diet without oil, as it is inherent in all materials. In this case small supplements of oil are all that are needed.

Pros and cons of oil

Pros :
  1. Essential component of soft tissue structure
  2. Key role in hormone activity
  3. Central biochemical role
  4. Energy storage system
  5. Provides energy that by passes the anaerobic stages that are associated with muscle fatigue and “fast release” energy
  6. An excellent source of concentrated energy
  7. Physical insulation and protection of body organs
  8. Maintains conformity and combats excessive heat loss

  1.     None – Avoid overfeeding.

The British Horse Feeds range contains only natural, traditional, Non-GM materials. It contains no unethical products and has been formulated to provide the optimum spectrum of all nutrients. Special care has been taken to ensure the proportions of cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin are best for the horse, that the amino acid profile counters the limiting effects of forages and the oils contain Omega 3 and Omega 6 long chain fatty acids.