We all know what protein is, but how much do we really know about protein? Protein is essential for all animals, particularly in growing or performance animals. As you can imagine, this is especially true for young horses because of the high physical demands we place on them. The amount of protein your young horse intakes can either restrict or maximize growth, making this an important concept for all horse owners to understand. Kentucky Equine Research recently published an article highlighting energy, protein, and amino acid requirements in growing horses. So how are these things connected? Growth. Energy. Protein. Amino Acids.
Animals need energy for all functions of the body, growing being high on the list. Obviously "energy" is not listed on the feed tag, rather it is a product of metabolizing glucose, fatty acids and protein. The protein requirements for any horse is determined by the amount needed for maintenance plus the amount needed for growth. Here is a helpful table from ADM Alliance Nutrition:
It is not enough to simply add protein to the diet however. Owners feeding growing horses need to ensure their protein sources are high quality. Quality refers to the amounts and ratios of the amino acids. The amino acid Lysine, promotes the production of carnitine (a nutrient that helps convert fatty acids into energy) and collagen (a fibrous protein that makes up bones, cartilage, and other connective tissues, including the skin and tendon). Young horses deficient in Lysine will often suffer from growth restriction. Grass and cereal-based grains tend to be low in this amino acid, therefore it is often necessary to supplement. Methionine and Tryptophan are also essential amino acids that play a role in growth.
Chia seeds are high in protein at 18%. Even better, they are considered a complete protein because they contain all four of the essential amino acids, Lysine, Methionine, Tryptophan, and Phenylalanine. The body cannot produce essential amino acids, making complete protein sources a valuable part of nutrition. While flax seeds have a higher protein content, they are not considered complete proteins.
In summary, protein is a critical part of the horse's diet. Too little or too much can cause problems in horses. Factoring in your horses stage of life along with their work load will help you figure out the protein requirements for you to create a balanced feed plan. Looking for a good source of protein? Learn more about the benefits of chia seeds for horses, or purchase them from our online store.