New breed-specific growth models will help fine-tune feeding recommendations for young horses in the near future, researchers reported.
Although recommendations already exist based on basic body types, such as draft versus light horses, these new models will help distinguish the feeding patterns among sport and racehorse breeds, according to Sarah Heugebaert, engineering student at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and primary author of the study.
Breed-specific feeding recommendations will not only optimize growth for each foal but will also reduce costs to breeders and help prevent osteoarticular disorders, such as developmental orthopedic diseases, that can develop from overfeeding, Heugebaert said.
"Breeders often want to give a little extra to their young animals, with the idea that too much is better than too little," said Florence Garcia-Launay, PhD, INRA researcher and co-author of the study. "But we hope to get the message out that, on the contrary, these horses need to be fed for their specific growth curve to optimize their athletic potential at an early age while keeping them as healthy as possible."
Heugebaert and Garcia-Launay plotted growth patterns of 960 horses, representing four sports and race breeds, from birth to age 5. "What we found was that it isn't just a matter of some breeds being taller or heavier than others," Heugebaert said. "Their growth curves don't follow the same pattern at all. They actually cross over each other in some places, meaning that these breeds have a very different development process with significant variations in how they grow and when."
The breeds studied--French saddle horses, Anglo-Arabs, French trotters, and English Thoroughbreds--showed consistency of growth patterns for the individuals studied, regardless of each horse's final height and weight, and regardless of sex, Heugebaert said.
The results, which were presented March 4 at the Equine Research Day in Paris, will contribute to the INRA's new official feeding recommendations, according to William Martin-Rosset, PhD, INRA researcher and coordinator of the recommendations reform project. The INRA guidelines are increasingly used to determine equine nutrition planning in many European countries.
Plans are currently under way to extend this research to more breeds and more countries.
The revised edition of the INRA feeding recommendations will be released in late 2010 or early 2011, the researchers said.
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