Feed Supplements: Understanding How Horses Process It

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Allison Price

Vitamins and Minerals Guide for Horses - Horse&Rider

All living things have chemical processes and genetic code in maintaining their lives. All organisms have requirements of nutrient to be taken. The only difference you can tell is how they absorbed the nutrients and energy for them to live. Although horse belong to the group of mammals, they are pretty unique. They have an advance digesting process than other mammals.

Feed supplements play a vital role in the overall health of your horses. Various supplements are available in the market for you to have. You can choose the natural or synthetic supplement for your horses. Whatever you choose between the two of these will sure have an effect in your horses.

Aren’t you curious how supplements, whether natural or synthetic, are being processed by your horses to be absorbed by their bodies? 

Let’s Get Started!

Horses eat feed supplements with the help of their teeth, tongue, and lips. They use saliva to moist the feed supplement so that it can easy be swallowed. There are three pairs of glands that produce saliva – the sublingual, the parotid and the submaxillary. The horses can produce 20-80 liters of saliva every day. Also, saliva has bicarbonate that protects the amino acids from the acid of the stomach. It contains adequate amount of amylase that help to carbohydrate digestion. Moreover, the chewing action of horses is called sweeping action. It moves forward in lateral and vertical motions and backward motions. With this, the feed is ground enough mixed with saliva for it to be digested. The feeds’ texture will influence on how horses chew the supplements and how long it will digest.

In the stomach, digesting continues. Now, an enzyme that is responsible for digesting proteins, called pepsin will mix with the feeds. Also, hydrochloric acid will also be mixed to feeds to break down solid particles. There is a high variable rate of feed passage through the stomach depending on how your horses are being fed. The time of passage may be short as early as 15 minutes when your horses consume large meal. If you fasted your horses, clearing the horses’ stomach, it will take about 24 hours. The horses stomach has 3 main area, namely, the pyloric regions, fundic and saccus caecus. The saccus caecus is located between the end of esophagus and entrance of the stomach. If feed enters the stomach, it is mixed with hydrochloric and pepsin. However, if that feed is grass, it releases soluble sugars to be absorbed and undergo bacterial fermentation to have lactic acid. In normal circumstances, when stomach ingesta and hydrochloric acid mixes, pH content drops, fermentation will slow down and could stop. This process is important, since if fermentation is still going through, it may result to colic. This will also lead in worst case scenario – stomach lining may rupture. Moreover, as the feed moves to the next region of the stomach which is the fundic region, there is a 5.4 pH level drop. As the pH level decreases, fermentation also begins to stop. Stomach acid and pepsin will initiate in digestion and breaking down fats and proteins. The final region of the horses’ stomach is the pyloric region. It is where the small intestines and stomach meets. The pH level in this area will drop to 2.6 that eliminates all lacto-bacteria. The protein digestion activity in this region ranges from 15-20 times compared to fundic region.

From the stomach, the digesta will go to the small intestine. The horses’ small intestine is composed of 3 sections; the ileum, jejunum and duodenum. Most of digesting process occurs in large and small intestines. Although the intestines have the capability of secreting enzymes, the pancreas supplies a greater number of enzymes. Pancreatic enzymes help the food to be digested, starches and sugars digested by carbohydrates, and proteases turn proteins into amino acids. After digesting the supplements, the walls of the small intestines will absorb the nutrients and carried by blood stream to distribute to cells. About 30-60 percent of absorption, carbohydrate digestion and some amino acid absorption occur in small intestines. Fat soluble such as vitamin E, A, K and D are being absorbed in the small intestines along with calcium and phosphorus. If there is a change in the carbohydrates of the feeds, small intestine can digest it around 90 percent. Also, it will help the large intestine to minimize its work. The feed supplement can take 30 to 60 minutes to pass through the small intestines. The approximate rate of feed to move in the small intestine is about 30 per minute. However, with this approximation, feed will stay for about 3-4 hours before it lives the small intestine. Also, the faster the digesta moves in small intestines the less time that the enzymes to act. Furthermore, adding oil in the feed supplements of your horses will reduce the flow of it in the intestines. Thus, it will also allow the digestive enzymes to have more time in processing fats, starches, and proteins. With this, the total tract digestibility will increase and the small intestine can maximize its digestive efficiency.

The large intestine is consisting of caecum, rectum, anus, large and small colon. This is where also the most digestion of supplement take place. Digestion in large intestine is done by billions of bacteria that are symbiotic. These bacteria will break down fiber plants and starches that are undigested into volatile fatty acids. Also, these volatile fatty acids can be absorbed by the gut wall. In caecum, the microbes will break down the undigested feed. The caecum has an odd structure because both the entrance and exit are located at the top of the organ. Thus, the structure leads to problems when animals eat their feed without adequate water intake and if there is a sudden change in diet. Moreover, the microbial population of caecum can adjust to a sudden change or can return to its normal function within two-three weeks. This is the reason why you can read to feed tags that you should slowly introduce new feeds to you horses over seven-fourteen days. For seven hours, the feed will stay in caecum, allowing the bacteria to break it down using the process of fermentation. The microbe will create vitamin B complex and K, fatty acids, and proteins. Later on, the fatty acids and vitamins could be absorbed. Furthermore, the microbial fermentation continues in large colon. Vitamin B, phosphorus and some trace of minerals are being absorbed here. Feed supplement can reach here as fast as seven hours and will remain for about 48-65 hours. After staying in large colon, feed that are useless will pass through the small colon. By now fecal balls are being formed and passed to rectum and excrete as manure by the anus.

For you to have more understanding on how the feed supplement is processed by horses, watch this video:

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!