The dietary requirements of protein for horses change as they mature or a demand is placed on their bodies. Protein percentages are easily found on feed bags but there is no labeling on hay bales. Again hay must be analyzed in order to determine its protein percentage. It is far safer for the horse to be fed a slightly higher percentage of protein that too little. Horses fed slightly too much protein in their diet can eliminate it as waste. Horses should be allowed enough water so the kidneys can pass the waste. Horses fed very high protein diets for long periods of time will cause reduced performance. A deficiency of protein can cause slow growth and development in young horses. Mature horses needing protein will have a poor coat, loss of muscle mass and poor hooves.
Protein Percentage of Total Diet
There are two items to remember about protein percentages when related to feed and forage. When feed is manufactured its protein percentage is determined by testing. Hay and grass must also be analyzed to determine its protein percentage. So a feed/forage that is determined to be 10% protein means that 10% of that feed/forage is protein. This where some horse owners may have confusion, that 10% protein of feed is not the same as 10% of the horse’s total diet. If a horse for example is eating forage with 8% protein (75% of the daily diet) and is eating concentrated feed with 14% protein (25% of the daily diet) you have a total average of 9.5% protein consumption. This is an important reason why you should know the protein content of your pasture grass or hay so you may supplement the horse’s diet with the proper amount of protein required.
Recommended Daily Protein Percentages
Weanling……………16.0% Nursing (First 3 months).15.0%
Yearling……………14.0% Nursing (4 to 6 months)..13.0%
18 Month Old………..12.0% Stallion (Breeding)……10.0%
2 Year Old………….10.0%
Performance or Working
Light (2 Year Old)…..10.5% Light (3 Years & Up)……9.5%
Moderate (2 Year Old)..11.5% Moderate (3 Years & Up)..10.5%
Intense (2 Year Old)…12.5% Intense (3 Years & Up)…11.5%