Coconut meal for horses
If you are looking to bump up the fiber and protein in your horse’s diet the copra meal is the way to go. At 20% fiber it can be used much like beet pulp to add fiber and it’s a great way to increase the quality of the protein in the diet
Following fads in equine nutrition is all too common and sometimes risky, but every once in a while something comes along that has the potential to really add value to your horse’s nutritional wellbeing. Coconut, especially coconut oil, is gaining a reputation as a health food and natural healer.
WHAT IS IT AND WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?Copra, or coconut meal, is a feed ingredient that is the by-product of the oil extraction from dried coconut kernels. It comes from the white part of the coconut, not the shell or husk. The nut is split and the kernel is removed and dried to below 6% moisture. The dried coconut is ground, flaked and cooked until moisture is brought down to 3%. The oil is then mechanically extracted from the flakes using an expeller machine, resulting in low-colored oil and a copra cake containing about 10% oil. Coconut meal can be fed as a protein supplement either alone or with other protein sources, or
WHAT IS THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE?Coconut meal and coconut oil provide important nutritional components for horses. Both forms are high in protein and the meal form has high fiber. The primary reason they are added to an equine diet, however, is for the fat content.
The nutritional profile for Coconut meal/oil:
Digestible Energy (DE) of Oil
3.18 M/Cal/lb (29.4 MJ/kg) DE of DM 1.3 M/Cal/lb (2.8 MJ/kg)
Crude Protein 23 %, Crude Fiber DM 15 %, Fat 12%, Calcium 0.2%, Phosphorus 0.65%,
Coconut meal has relatively high protein content, but because it has a low level of lysine it is not the same quality found in more common protein sources like soybean meal. Estimations for actual digestible energy content of coconut meal put it in the same energy range as beet pulp or soy hulls. The nutritional composition suggests that the fiber fractions are similar to pasture grasses. The percentage of digestible fiber (hemicellulose) is comparable to fresh, early vegetative orchard grass at approximately 25%. Due to the low level of lignon (the “stemmy” part of the plant) the digestibility of coconut meal is high, comparable to that of corn by-products and soybean hulls. Coconut meal contains less than 12% starch (nonstructural carbohydrates; NSC) therefore it does not cause starch-related disorders such as tying up and laminitis. Coconut oil also provides a whopping 7 grams of lauric acid per tablespoon. . Mothers’ milk is the only other source of this amazing fatty acid.
WHY FEED IT TO HORSES?
The high protein, fiber, and fat content make this an ideal food component of an equine diet. As with other high-fat products you feed your horse, coconut oil is very energy dense and yields about 2 times more energy than starch or protein. It gives your horse a readily digestible energy, without the “hotness” that generally comes with high grain diets. Coconut oil provides medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which are more rapidly absorbed and more quickly metabolized than the long chain triglycerides found in olive oil, vegetable oil, soy oil, and corn oil. Rather than being stored for fat, the body converts the MCTs into fuel for muscles. Studies have shown that saturated fatty acids give the following effects in horses:
- Increased muscle glycogen content
- Increased sparing of muscle glycogen during light work
- Increased utilization of muscle glycogen during heavy work
All of these make coconut particularly beneficial to horses who need “long burn energy” such as performance horses. Because it is a medium chain triglyceride, its NSC content makes it suitable for horses with metabolic issues who have trouble handling starch and sugar, like those with insulin resistance and Cushing’s disease. Used with discretion, coconut meal can add calories without having an effect on the glycemic response of the horse. As if that isn’t enough, the MCT from coconut oil may have antimicrobial actions from lauric fatty acid. The body converts lauric acid to monlaurin. Studies have shown that monlaurin can also kill a number of fungi and protozoa and can inactivate certain viruses including HIV, sarcoma virus, influenza, and vesicular stomatitis. Finally, most horses seem to love the taste of coconut oil so it’s a great way to hide less palatable supplements and medications as well as add shine to the hair coat.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OR CONCERNS?
Its fiber, fat and protein profiles are very good but Coconut meal/oil tends to be high in phosphorus and low in calcium and this imbalance can be a problem when fed in large amounts. Before this could be used as a staple in the diet the Ca deficiency must be compensated for. Grazing in quality pasture or feeding a good hay with high calcium values would help. In addition to Ca:P ratio issues, coconut meal/oil may have a zinc-to-copper ratio imbalance that hay cannot remedy. Some coconut meal/oil can have a ratio as low as 2:1. Adding a vitamin and mineral supplement may help with this mineral imbalance, especially one reasonably high in zinc. Another concern that must be considered is how the Coconut meal is dried and processed. It is extremely important to use a product that is processed using low heat drying to maintain the integrity of the feed. Coconut meal can be susceptible to rancidity and the product should not be used after a prolonged storage. Coconut oil, however, is stable and resistant to rancidity. Because of its saturated structure, coconut oil can be stored for long periods of time without risk of rancidity.
HOW DO YOU FEED IT TO HORSES?
There are products that have been formulated with Coconut meal/oil as an ingredient. Another way is to add coconut oil directly into your horse’s feed as you would any oil supplement. In order to assure the correct amounts for your horse’s needs, it’s best to follow the directions on the product. Should you decide to use a feed with a copra meal base, have an equine nutritionist double-check the vitamin and mineral intakes for the total diet to ensure that your horse is consuming sufficient levels of these nutrients.
Laura Stopper Batts, MS, PAS, founder of Health Horse Healthy Planet, lives in Reston, VA. She has 40+ years as a professional in the horse industry and is a certified FeedMaster™ and Professional Animal Scientist, in addition to being a self-proclaimed “Nutrition Nerd.”. Laura teaches, trains, farm-sits and judges in her local area of Northern Virginia and Maryland and is available for phone and on-farm nutritional consultations. www.happyhorsehealthyplanet.com