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Why Steamed Hay Can Lead To Protein Deficiency In Horses

Why Steamed Hay Can Lead To Protein Deficiency In Horses

Hay treated with hot steam is safer for horses but provides them with less protein. The horse forage is treated with steam to rid it of potentially harmful microorganisms and to bind particles that could otherwise be inhaled. However, a team of scientists from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) has discovered that this also causes a chemical reaction which damages the proteins in the hay and makes them harder for horses to digest. This can lead to signs of nutrient deficiency in the animals and, for example, impair growth or muscle development. The team reports on their scientific work in the journal Animals.

The researchers demonstrated this by examining various hay samples. In the steamed hay, they found an increased number of products that are generated by the Maillard reaction, an indication that the proteins in the hay have been damaged. This is a reaction that also takes place when food is cooked, baked or fried and is responsible for browning or the development of flavors.

"Proteins are composed of amino acids. The steaming damages them and they form new complexes with sugars in the hay," says the first author of the study, Caroline Pisch, from MLU. This makes them difficult for horses to digest. According to the researchers' analyses, the treatment reduced the amount of protein that can be absorbed by the  by almost half.

According to Zeyner, this can lead to an undersupply of essential  from the feed protein, which is problematic for growing horses or lactating mares; young  need proteins to grow, and mares need them to produce milk. To make matters worse, protein deficiency causes very unspecific symptoms in the affected animals. 

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