Fiber for horses

With the exception of lignin, horses use most of the fiber ingested. These fibers are a source of energy for the horse.

Cellulose concept

In botany we learn that cellulose is a carbohydrate made up of a linear chain of D-glucose molecules (between 15 and 15,000) - (Wiki).
When we want to use the INRA tables to establish the ration of a horse, we approach the notion of "crude fiber":it is "the insoluble residue of acid hydrolysis followed by basic hydrolysis. It contains true cellulose and insoluble lignin ”. 
It is expressed as a percentage (either crude or dry matter)
Except that … crude fiber corresponds only to the "walls" of the feed or fodder that we are going to give to the horse.
But what is more:
  • on the one hand, the plant wall content is underestimated,
  • and on the other hand there is no distinction between the different fibers.

Two main categories of fibers

  1. Soluble fibers : mainly the non-woody parts of a plant (including: sap, resin, pectin, gums),
  2. Insoluble fiber : mainly structural components (lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose). 
Note: Lignin is resistant to bacterial fermentation, but plays an important role in maintaining normal gastrointestinal motility and function.

Bacterial digestion of fibers in our horses

Bacterial fermentation of the fiber results in the production of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) and lactic acid.

  • AGV : energy easily absorbed in the blood and used directly, or stored in the form of glucose or fat. 
  • Lactic acid : also used to synthesize and store glucose.

Bacterial fermentation allows slow energy production which smooths the concentration of glucose in the blood.

This fermentation also allows the interesting production of B vitamins (including biotin, folate, and vitamins B12 and B6).

The importance of the microbiota

The good health of the bacteria responsible for fermentation in the hindgut is essential. Any imbalance can lead to digestive problems.

Any change in the diet can disrupt the microbial population.

The consumption of cereals (and in particular barley) will produce an overload of starch in the hindgut: this leads to an excessive production of lactic acid and VFAs. These acids change the environment with what is called acidosis. This results in dysbiosis of the body as a whole with various manifestations including the risks of

  • digestive disorders,
  • colic,
  • laminitis ...

Equine permaculture provides a response to this natural need of the horse by offering it a diet based on quality hay in permanent access, a wide variety of other fodder including fodder trees, and work on the flora of pastures in order to make grazing possible, even occasional and managed in a very rational way.

You can come and explore the discussions on the subject of horse feed, hay, fodder trees in our Facebook Group page but also start the Initiation and Designer course in equine permaculture.

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