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When is High Protein not High Protein?

Understanding your Feed Supplement Label

Kate Hore RNutr (Animal). Nutritionist at NAF

Crude Protein is a legally required declaration on most (not all) horse feeds, including complementary feeds such as supplements, but what does it really tell you about your horse’s supplement?

Which of these would you consider to be ‘high protein’ for a good do-er?

Q: Isn’t this protein too high for my horse?

A: Supplements may contain a range of protein sources including, Probiotic yeast, Amino acids and Marine Algaes, so it’s not surprising that we see Crude Protein on the label. As supplements tend to be very concentrated, that protein may be in a relatively high concentration, and rates of 15 - 25% are not unusual. These levels can cause concern with horse owners, particularly those managing EMS or other metabolic conditions. However remember, that a percentage alone is meaningless, and it must be considered alongside feeding rate. So let’s compare feeding rates on typical products and see how that affects the protein.

Feeding a 500kg I.R. Cob in light work.
All rates based on manufacturer’s guidelines.

Low Protein Hay. Fed as a total diet to replace grazing.

Complete Feed for Good Do-ers. A high fibre, broad-spectrum cube.

NAF In the Pink Powder. A concentrated broad-spectrum supplement.

Therefore although a protein level may look high, or may look low, when looked at with the feeding rate the reality can be very different. In these examples the low protein hay fed as a total diet exceeds the recommended crude protein requirement for this horse (699g*). The complete feed may exceed requirements when fed with forage or grazing. However the supplement will balance the protein provided by the forage in the diet without adding significantly to the overall protein quotient.

Of course, protein is important and necessary to the diet of every horse and pony. Protein provides the building blocks of growth and repair, so it’s essential that adequate levels are always included in your horse’s diet. By choosing a concentrated supplement we can balance the vitamins and minerals required for health and vitality, without exceeding protein requirements.

Q: Why does this joint supplement have such a high protein level?

A: The simple answer is, it doesn’t contain protein at all, but when the label might say 18% Crude Protein we do understand the confusion! Let us explain. When laboratories test for Crude Protein they don’t actually measure protein, but they measure nitrogen and multiply by 6.25 to get protein. This is the same whatever product, feed or supplement, that you’re looking at. This can give us ‘false protein’ results, and joint products are a case in point. Glucosamine is not a protein, but it does contain nitrogen (C6H13NO5), therefore a product containing a good level of glucosamine will always have a high Crude Protein declaration – actually it’s one way to check that the product you’re considering does contain a reasonable level of glucosamine, just look at the Crude Protein result on the label.

In many ways we would like to not have to declare the protein on joint products like Superflex or Superflex Senior, as it is not really protein and it can cause confusion. However our Quality Commitment and independent quality audits, such as GMP+FSA and UFAS, mean that we always produce fully legal labels on our products, that are hopefully transparent and informative for our customers. Unfortunately the legal requirements can, themselves, introduce some confusion, and we do hope we’ve been able to clear that up for you this morning.

*Nutrient Requirements for Horses (2007) 6th Rev Ed. Pub: National Research Council

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