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Essential Fatty Acids In Equine Nutrition


Dr. Martin Adams, PAS - Equine Nutritionist for Southern States A close up of fatty acids

You’ve probably noticed lots of ads for omega-3 fat supplements for horses, usually containing flax seed meal or oil, marine algae or fish oil. Studies in humans have found many health benefits with supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. While research benefits for horses have not been as numerous, the research with omega-3 supplementation for horses has also shown some healthy results. The following information is to provide you with an understanding of essential fatty acids and how you may improve the diet and health of your horse.

Each molecule of fat or oil consists of three fatty acid molecules and one glycerol molecule. The horse needs a certain amount of fat in its diet, and all fats contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Horses require these two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, the major ones are linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). These fats are termed essential fatty acids (EFA) because the horse’s metabolism can't synthesize them; they must be consumed in the diet to be provided. Although the exact EFA requirements for horses have not been established, they have been demonstrated as necessary for all animals and humans for many normal body functions. Deficiency of EFA in humans and animals includes hair loss, skin problems and impaired immune function.

Fatty Acids In Pasture Grass & Hay

Pasture grasses and hay, although containing only 2% to 3% fat, have greater concentrations of omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids. Cereal grains, such as corn and oats, contain much higher levels of omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids in reference to their total fat content. Both rice bran and soybean oils are higher in omega-3 and lower in omega-6 content than corn oil. And oils from flax and canola seeds contain the largest amounts of omega-3's, with higher levels of omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil is the most concentrated plant source of omega-3 fatty acids or alpha-linolenic acid, which is also called ALA and LNA. Fish oil is the greatest source of omega-3 fatty acids, with the highest omega-3:omega-6 ratio, and contains the omega-3's eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Horses can convert ALA into DHA and EPA in their body tissues, which are used in various physiological functions, so these are not required but may be limited in the horse's diet.

Proper Balance in Horse Feeding

The horse needs a balance of omega-3's and omega-6's to function at an optimal level, but the exact amounts or ratio of omega-3:omega-6 is not known. Research has focused on adding more omega-3's, which increases the dietary ratio of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids in the equine diet. Studies in horses have shown that high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammatory processes by increasing the formation of prostaglandins. And the addition of omega-3 fatty acids to horse diets has been shown to reduce inflammatory processes by decreasing prostaglandin formation. For example, a study with actively worked reining horses found that supplementation with soybean oil compared to corn oil reduced inflammatory response in horses with the soybean oil dietary addition.

Fat Supplement Comparison For Legends Omega Plus & Legends Fortified Pelleted Rice Bran

Guaranteed Nutrient
or Feature

Legends
Omega Plus

Legends Fortifed Pelleted Rice Bran

Crude Protein (min)

12.0%

12.0%

Crude Fat (min)

25.0%

18.0%

Crude Fiber (max)

8.0%

8.5%

Calcium (min)

0.70%

1.25%

Calcium (max)

1.20%

1.75%

Phosphorus (min)

0.40%

1.50%

Potassium (min)

1.0%

1.30%

Magnesium (min)

1.0%

0.45%

Zinc (min)

No Guarantee

No Guarantee

Copper (min)

No Guarantee

No Gurantee

Iron (min)

No Guarantee

100 ppm

Niacin (min)

No Guarantee

45 mg/lb

Riboflavin (min)

No Guarantee

1.2 mg/lb

Biotin (min)

No Guarantee

0.15 mg/lb

Free Fatty Acids (max)

No Guarantee

4.0%

Selenium (min)

0.30 ppm

No Guarantee

Vitamin A (min)

3,000 IU/lb

No Guarantee

Vitamin D3 (min)

400 IU/lb

No Guarantee

Vitamin E (min)

300 IU/lb

300 IU/lb

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (min)

5.0%

No Guarantee

Omega-6 Fatty Acids (min)

10.0%

No Guarantee

Feeding Rate

½ to 2 lb/day

½ to 2 lb/day

Balanced Ca:P Levels

Yes

Yes

Added Vitamins & Minerals

Yes

Yes

Shelf Life

4 months

1 year

Net Weight (lb)

40

40

 

  • Legends Omega Plus is a flaxseed-based extruded particle with vitamin and mineral fortification. We recommend it to horse owners for hard keepers, show and performance horses for improvements in body condition, hair coat, hoof condition, stamina and other health benefits. It is also a source of “cool calories” meaning that it can be used to decrease the amount of grain fed due to its higher caloric density and can reduce the amount of dietary starch and sugar for reduced excitable behavior. Changes have recently been made in Legends Omega Plus to provide a better appearance and longer shelf life for an increased feeding safety margin. The manufacture date is printed on the back of each bag of Legends Omega Plus, so you can track the shelf life of this product easily.

  • Legends Fortified Pelleted Rice Bran is an extrusion-stablized rice bran product in a pelleted form with added calcium and vitamin E. Recommend it to horse owners for hard keepers, show and performance horses for improvements in body condition, hair coat, hoof condition and stamina. It is also a source of “cool calories” meaning that it can be used to decrease the amount of grain fed due to its higher caloric density and can reduce the amount of dietary starch and sugar for reduced excitable behavior.

Use Of Omega-3 Supplements In Horse Feed

Generations of horse owners have fed flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed and observed improved hair coat condition in their horses. Equine nutrition research studies have demonstrated beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation including improved hair coat, lowered skin inflammation when challenged with inflammatory substances, reduced inflammatory blood metabolites, increased sperm concentration and motility in older stallions, reduced joint inflammation, reduced heart rate during exercise and increased immune response.

The benefits of boosting the immune system and reducing inflammatory responses would be beneficial for horses that are aged, involved in intense exercise, or affected with allergic reactions, emphysema or heaves, degenerative joint disease and laminitis. Also, horses on high-grain diets and horses with allergic conditions and poor hair coat would benefit from higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Fatty Acids In Southern States Horse Feed

All Southern States horse feeds (Select, Southern States and Legends horse feeds) use soy oil as the source of fat, which provides increased amounts of omega-3’s compared to horse feeds manufactured with corn oil. The two Legends Performance horse feeds also contain rice bran and flaxseed for increased omega-3 content.

Southern States also has several fat supplements available that allow you to increase the omega-3 fatty acid level of your horse’s diet. Legends Fortified Pelleted Rice Bran is an extruded pellet with 18% fat. Legends Omega Plus is an extruded flaxseed-based fat supplement. Legends Omega Plus has a fat content of 25%, a guaranteed omega-3 fatty acid guarantee of 5%, and is recommended for show, breeding and performance horses.

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