Everyone has heard the saying ‘no foot, no horse’ and if you have had a horse that is constantly sending you hunting around the field for a lost shoe then you are well aware how frustrating poor hoof condition can be! Autumn and winter present a challenging time for your horse’s feet with the changes between wet, muddy, frozen and dry conditions causing changes in the hoof horn integrity really putting those nails to the test!
There are many reasons for poor hoof condition, however diet is linked to good general health and research has shown that certain nutrients are beneficial for improving hoof growth.
Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin produced by the horse from the fermentation of fibre in the hindgut. When sufficient fibre is fed the horse’s basic biotin requirements should be met, however if there is already a problem present or a horse is on a low fibre diet then additional supplementation may be required.
So how much biotin does a horse need?- There has been lots of research carried out into the effect of biotin on hoof quality with Buffa et al (1992) finding increased hoof hardness and greater growth rates when feed 15mg per day in comparison to 7.5mg per day. Zenker et al (1995) further supported this finding that a 20mg dosage over 38 months improving hoof horn quality and tensile strength. These studies suggest a biotin intake of between 15 and 20mg per day should aid in improving hoof horn quality.
Although biotin is the most commonly associated vitamin with hoof integrity, this alone is not enough to correct poor hoof horn quality, but is one of many essential nutrients required.
One of Zinc’s many roles within the body is the health and integrity of skin, hair and hooves. Zinc is present in high concentrations in hoof tissue as it is vital for the assembly of keratin, the protein of which hoof horn is made. If Zinc is deficient in the diet we may see slow hoof growth, brittle and flaky horn and a higher incidence of hoof abscesses.
Methionine is the other nutrient that is closely linked with hoof quality. Methionine is an essential amino acid that is a structural component of proteins and enzymes in the body, including keratin. Methionine to be supplied in the diet as the horse does not produce it.
Bone health is probably the first thing that comes to mind when we mention calcium, however it also plays an important role in cell-to-cell attachment in the hoof horn. The most common reason for a horse’s diet to be low in calcium is the feeding of straights, due to these being in higher in phosphorus than calcium, knocking out the ideal 2:1 ratio. Providing a fully balanced diet should alleviate this problem.
So what do I feed?
The essential first step is to determine whether you are feeding a fully balanced diet as there is little point providing an additional hoof supplement on top of an unbalanced diet. If you are feeding less than recommended amounts of a concentrate feed then ‘top-up’ the vitamin and mineral portion of the diet using a balancer, such as Ultimate Balancer, containing at least 30mg/kg of biotin. This will already be balanced with Zinc, Methionine and Calcium to give optimum results.
If you are looking for a complete feed then these are still available with increased biotin levels. Safe & Sound is a fantastic, fully balanced, chaff-based feed that provides 10mg/kg of biotin alongside our Lami-Free herbs and QLC antioxidants-perfect for promoting good hoof quality!
If you are already feeding recommended amounts of a hard feed or balancer then you can consider adding in a supplement on top, however do read the ingredients carefully to make sure it is not just biotin alone-as we now know that will not be as effective!
If you have any concerns about your horses hoof condition and would like to speak to one of us on the Helpline please do not hesitate to contact us on 0845 345 2627.
Buffa, E.A., Van Den Burg, S.S., Verstraete, F.J.M. and Swart, N.G.N.. (1992). Effect of dietary biotin supplement on equine hoof horn growth rate and hardness. Equine Veterinary Journal. 24 (6), p472-474.
Zenker, W., Josseck. and Geyer, H.. (1995). Histological and physical assessment of poor hoof horn quality in Lipizzaner horses and a therapeutic trial with biotin and a placebo. Equine Veterinary Journal. 27 (3), p183-191.