ACVIM 2006: New Nutrition Software

Researchers have completed the new National Research Council (NRC) report that describes nutritional requirements of the horse. The report is expected to be released this fall to update the previous publication, which was distributed in 1989. This new information will be used to predict the daily nutrient requirements of horses in various physiologic states, i.e., pregnancy, exercise, or growth.

"The committee has reviewed the available literature and addressed a number of current issues in documenting nutrient recommendations and feeding management of the horse," said Robert J. Van Saun, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACT, Dipl. ACVN, of University Park, Penn., in his presentation at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum on June 2 in Louisville, Ky.

Van Saun further described the guidelines to The Horse on Sept. 13, as the NRC report has been approved since the Forum.

The cattle industry is years ahead of the horse world in its understanding of nutritional requirements, and better mechanistic models have been developed for cattle. Equine researchers are working hard to catch up. Until this report, mineral and vitamin requirements for the horse were defined on a dietary nutrient basis (percent of dry matter or parts per million). In the new report, the authors have moved to describing equine nutrient requirements on a body weight basis (mg or g/kg BW) as well as dietary concentration.

"In the previous NRC, dietary energy and protein were defined as a proportion of total diet (Mcal/lb or %)," explained Van Saun. "In the new NRC, dietary requirements will only be defined as total amounts required and there will be flexibility by the user to choose a level of dry matter intake. This means that diets with differing percents of protein might be equally sufficient due to different expected intake levels."

The authors also made adjustments to how maintenance energy is calculated. "The new NRC, which has now been accepted for publication, will allow the user to choose one of three levels of maintenance energy for their horse to account for 'average,' 'easy,' and 'hard' keepers," said Van Saun. "Additionally, users can select one of four categories of activity to match what their horse exercise regime mimics.".

Van Saun and his collaborators promise the NRC recommendations have been "greatly expanded" since the previous report that was released 17 years ago, and new topics have been added. "It will be interesting to see how these models work in the real world and how we tweak them," said Van Saun.

The software also will be used to facilitate teaching of equine nutrition and will assist in developing research models that will help scientists better understand nutrition requirements of the horse.

"We envision these as the culmination, but really it's a starting point," said Van Saun. "These software models set the stage for continued development. More research is required to move to the next level of understanding."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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