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Forageplus Intelligent Horse Nutrition
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horse health, horse nutrition, forage analysis, minerals
horse health, horse nutrition, forage analysis, minerals

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Protein and Amino Acids

Proteins are like the building blocks of life, and when new tissues are made or repaired protein is needed. Proteins are composed of units called amino acids. Protein is ingested then broken down into individual amino acids and used to build muscle and bone, blood components, enzymes that catalyze biochemical reactions, hormones, peptides, and antibodies.

Horse owners know protein is important but it is the available amino acids that are the crucial part of protein knowledge that is often misunderstood. Crude protein in horse feed does not necessarily supply all the amino acids the horse needs. Meeting a protein requirement does not mean just supplying a certain amount of crude protein; it means ensuring levels of specific amino acids as well.

How many amino acids do horses need?
There are twenty different amino acids needed for protein synthesis. Synthesis just means breaking down the protein into individual units – think of taking the beads of a necklace to pieces.

The body takes the protein necklace to pieces and uses the amino acids contained in the necklace to build new amino acids and also to build new protein. Some amino acids can be made by tissues of the body. However, ten of these amino acids, known as essential amino acids, can only be supplied to the horse through dietary sources.
These are arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Lysine, followed by methionine and threonine are the essential amino acids in most demand during protein synthesis in the horse. The good news is that lysine is the only amino acid in short supply in a forage based diet. Lysine enhances growth and nitrogen balance; promotes bone growth in foals; stimulates gastric juices. It is the amino acid that is often in the shortest supply in forage so it makes sense to supplement for insurance. It is particularly important for horses in heavy work, pregnant and lactating mares and growing youngsters.

It is important to make sure enough lysine is contained in the diet because without one essential amino acid the protein necklace may not be able to be rebuilt to make the required protein for different jobs in the body. This can lead to poor quality growth and developmental disease in growing horses or poor muscle condition and possibly break down in working horses.

What you need to worry about is that lysine is the most important amino acid to supplement. Other amino acids are generally well supplied in forage although for horses with poor hooves increased availability of methionine has been shown to be beneficial.  In addition the inclusion of glutamine can help gastric issues and leucine is useful for horses in heavy work. There is also some evidence to suggest that arginine can help long term laminitics during cold snaps.
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