Non-Structural Carbohydrates in Horse Forages
High-quality forage has traditionally been the component the equine diet is based around. However, what might be considered “quality” for one animal might not necessarily be optimal for another.
Generally speaking, protein, fiber, non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), and minerals are all measured components used to assess hay quality. But, NSC has gained more attention than the other components over the past few years as horse owners work to dial in exactly how high or low this component needs to be to meet their horses’ nutritional needs.
Forage is critical to maintaining gut health in the horse, making hay quality an important consideration. Ideally, horses should consume 1.5 to 2.0% of their body weight in forage per day. Hay intended for consumption by horses should contain protein levels that meet the animal’s nutrient requirements based on their activity level. For instance, a performance horse will likely require hay with a greater protein content than will a pasture pet. The hay’s structural fiber and mineral content can help meet a horse’s nutritional needs. The forage’s NSC content should be considered when horses encounter metabolic challenges.
Sugar, fructans, and starch comprise NSCs, and each of these nutrients are readily and rapidly digestible within the horse’s gastrointestinal tract, providing useable energy after consumption. Working or performance horses might require substantial NSC to meet energy demands, whereas less active adult horses require little to no additional NSCs. This difference in NSC needs within this species has driven additional research and review of NSC in horse
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