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Extension > Horse Extension - Research Updates > Effect of Meal Frequency in Horses

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Effect of Meal Frequency in Horses

This research confirms that feeding several small meals throughout the day is preferred for healthy horses.

Several studies have investigated the order of feeding (i.e. hay first then concentrate vs. concentrate then hay) and its impact on plasma glucose concentrations in horses. An Australian study recently looked at the effect of feeding frequency on plasma glucose.

A hay common to Australia (wheat hay) was fed to 6 Thoroughbred mares at 2.0% body weight ; a concentrate pellet was fed at 0.5% body weight. Horses were fed either once, twice, or three times daily, with the ration equally divided among meals. The pelleted concentrate was offered either 15 minutes before or after the hay was given for a period of 7 days and blood samples were taken while horses consumed each meal.

Researchers determined that the order of feeding, hay first then concentrate or concentrate then hay, had no effect on plasma glucose values, regardless of number of meals fed. Horses fed two meals per day had higher peak glucose compared to the other frequencies, and morning meals resulted in the highest peak glucose concentrations. Horses fed only one meal per day had the highest overall glucose response to their meal when compared to horses fed at multiple times throughout the day.
These results show that a horse's response to glucose is highest in the morning, and that the number of meals fed per day does affect blood glucose. Even though horses fed one meal per day had the highest overall glucose concentrations, horses fed three times a day had a greater glucose response. This is most likely due to the fact that only a limited amount of glucose is able to be absorbed from the gut during a meal. Feeding one large meal will have a pronounced and immediate effect on blood glucose, whereas spreading it out over several meals results in a larger amount of glucose absorbed.

This research confirms that feeding several small meals throughout the day is preferred for healthy horses.

Summarized by Emily Glunk, MS, University of Minnesota

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