March 2018
Farm & Field

Feeding for Hoof Health

A horse’s diet is a significant factor in developing healthy, strong hooves.

 

A strong, healthy hoof is your horse’s best defense against thrush or injury.

Late winter/early spring is usually a time of muddy, sloppy conditions that can spell trouble for hooves. From cracked hooves to thrush, poor hoof health takes a toll on your horses. Wet, sloppy conditions just exacerbate hoof problems by softening them up and making them more susceptible to injury and microbial entry. The best way to combat poor hoof health is to grow a strong, hard hoof in the first place.

 

The Biology of a Hoof

Hooves are primarily comprised of protein … namely a special kind of protein called keratin. Keratin is comprised of amino acids and forms twisted strands (much like a spring) that give it extra strength and elasticity. Then those many strands twist together (just like a rope). Additionally, they are linked together by sulfur bonds between sulfur-containing amino acids in opposing keratin strands to give added strength.

The outermost layer contains fats and waxes in addition to the dead keratin. When the layer is intact, it seals in moisture and gives the hoof its shine and smoothness.

 

How Nutrition Impacts Hoof Health

The quality of the overall diet is often very evident in the appearance of hooves because they are so metabolically active. In general, a hoof will grow and replace itself in roughly one year (quicker in very young animals). Hooves are comprised of mainly protein and fats, making it obvious that animals need to receive adequate levels of both crude protein and fatty acids – particularly sulfur-containing amino acids. What you may not realize is that mineral nutrition also plays a vital role in hoof health.

Lack of essential nutrients in a horse’s diet can contribute to cracks, chips and overall, poor hoof health.

 

Calcium is required for activation of the enzyme needed to form keratin. It is also required for the process of creating crosslinks between keratin fibers.

Zinc is very important for hoof growth and maintenance. It is an essential mineral in the formation of keratin. It also influences the body’s use of calcium.

Additionally, zinc plays a very important role in the formation of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme involved in antioxidant activity. Specifically, superoxide dismutase prevents the fats and oils in the hoof from oxidizing. When these fats oxidize, it breaks the protective seal and causes the hoof to become dry and brittle.

Copper is critical for the formation of crosslinks in the keratin keeping the hoof strong and hard. It is also a critical component of superoxide dismutase.

Selenium plays an important antioxidant role in the hoof by protecting the fats from oxidation.

Also, biotin, a B vitamin, is essential for long-chain fatty acid synthesis in the body.

We’ve already covered how critical fats are in maintaining a protective barrier.

Animals marginal to deficient in the nutrients in bold are most likely to experience these symptoms:

  • Slow hoof growth

  • Soft hooves

  • Cracks and chips

  • Abscesses

  • Laminitis (founder)

  • Thin hoof wall

  • Thrush

 

Feeding for Hoof Health

The specifics of what is necessary for optimum hoof health will vary slightly from breed to breed. Some breeds such as Arabians are known for sound hooves, while others such as Thoroughbreds have added challenges. But, in general, supplementation of these key nutrients tends to improve hoof quality vs. no supplementation.

As a rule, crude protein and fats aren’t lacking in horses grazing ample amounts of green, growing pastures. However, those with limited access to pasture or on a year-round hay diet can benefit from protein and fat supplementation.

Calcium deficiency is usually not an issue for most as well, especially in areas with hard water. But maintaining a correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in the diet is critical for health and well-being.

In contrast, zinc, copper and selenium are marginal to deficient in most soils across the United States, so supplementation of these nutrients is absolutely necessary on a year-round basis.

Additionally, most horses produce enough biotin in their hindgut for nutritional purposes, but most show a benefit to supplementation of biotin in their diets.

 

Futurity Precise Premium Hoof & Health Mineral

Independent research has shown time and time again that organic, chelated forms of trace minerals are more efficiently digested by the body and retained in tissues for later use. The new Futurity Precise Premium Hoof & Health Mineral offers balanced mineral nutrition, including organic trace minerals in the form of Bioplex, trace minerals of zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt, as well as Sel-Plex, a selenium-enriched yeast. These organic forms are more easily absorbed and metabolized than inorganic mineral sources, supporting mineral retention and improved tissue reserves. Futurity Precise Premium Hoof & Health Mineral also delivers biotin to help contribute to hoof health.

This free-choice supplement is highly palatable. You won’t have to worry about your horse not getting what it needs.

 

In summary, a horse’s diet has a huge effect on hoof quality and overall hoof health. In particular, protein, fat, calcium, zinc, copper, selenium and biotin play very important roles. Supplementation of these key nutrients can help your horse maintain or improve hoof health. Please remember that the hoof grows relatively slowly; so it may take months to notice an improvement and can take a year or more to obtain full benefits. Futurity Precise Premium Hoof & Health Mineral or any of the other Futurity Precise equine-supplement products can help make sure your horses get the key nutrients they need for healthy, strong hooves.

Ask for Futurity Precise by name at your local Quality Co-op. To learn more, call 1-800-325-1486 or visit www.sweetlix.com.

 

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations (www.sweetlix.com). You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.