Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.
Below you will find Part 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: How important is nutrition when it comes to hoof quality?
By Kentucky Equine Research staff
With a hot, dry climate, horses may have hoof horn that is dull, brittle and easily chipped or split. If hoof problems become severe, the horse is at increased risk for lameness that can impact its comfort and usefulness.
Rethinking a complete hoof management program for these horses often leads to hooves that look better and helps the horse stay sound. However, just as owners can’t change the climate where their horses live, they also can’t expect quick results. Building strong hooves takes 6-12 months, and nothing can speed up this process.
Hoof growth is influenced by age, breed, genetics, metabolic rate, exercise, external temperature, environmental moisture, illness, trimming and shoeing. Important nutritional influences include energy intake, protein and amino acid intake and metabolism, minerals such as zinc and calcium, and vitamins such as biotin and vitamin A.
When faced with poor-quality hooves, the first thing to consider in evaluating a feed program is total energy intake. Meeting energy requirements may be the most important step in ensuring hoof growth and integrity for horses in any climate. A horse with a negative energy balance will utilize protein in the diet or body to make up energy needs for maintenance or growth. This may create a secondary protein or amino acid deficiency.
Research has shown that hoof wall growth was 50% greater in growing ponies that were in positive energy balance than in ponies on restricted diets with reduced body growth rate. Recent research has shown that increasing the dietary intake of fat has little effect on hoof growth rate or strength, but fat can be a valuable addition to the diet for maintaining positive energy balance.
Aside from energy, a well-balanced diet will provide nutrients the horse requires for overall health and well-being, and these in turn will help fuel sound hoof growth. The hoof wall is about 93% protein on a dry matter basis, and high-quality dietary protein will supply the horse with the amino acids that researchers have theorized are essential for hoof growth.
While protein-deficient diets lead to reduced hoof growth and splitting and cracking, diets intended to support more rapid growth of young horses do not necessarily maximize hoof growth. This suggests the amino acid needs for general body growth and faster hoof growth are different, and scientists have studied this difference in search of the most important nutrients for producing better hooves.
Most of the research emphasis on hoof growth and hoof wall quality has involved biotin. It is thought that the normal horse has a biotin requirement of 1-2 mg per day, and this can be supplied in certain feedstuffs as a component of commercial vitamin and mineral premixes or by intestinal synthesis by microorganisms in the large intestine.
Good basic nutrition is the bottom line for hoof quality. Use a feed that is designed for the class of horse you are feeding, and feed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and desired body condition. Look for feeds that are balanced for macro- and micro-minerals. Commercial feeds should not be cut with oats, as this skews the nutrient balance.
Located in Versailles, Ky., Kentucky Equine Research is an international research, consulting and product development company working in the areas of equine nutrition and sports nutrition.
Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine).
Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.
Click here to read Part 1 of the Sept. 15, 2018 installment: How much hoof growth can I expect to see in a month’s time with my horses?