In recent years there has been an ever-increasing shift towards feeding horses larger amounts of fat in their diets. Fats are an excellent source of calories, providing 2.25 times more calories than an equal weight of carbohydrate. Feeding fat, therefore, reduces the amount of feed that would need to be eaten by a horse to reach the daily caloric requirement. This is an especially useful method when feeding horses with high caloric demands or that are hard keepers!
Another popular reason for increasing fat intake in the diet is that it improves coat quality. The cell membrane layers that glue together the cells that make up hair contain a lot of fat, which act to lock moisture into the hair and help improve shine. Similarly, fat plays an important role in hoof health. Feeding fats for the benefits of omega-3 has also increased significantly in recent years with the understanding that these forms of fatty acid have anti-inflammatory properties.
While there has been a proliferation of commercial feeds containing fat, using oils is still a popular option. Many oils exist today that are used by owners to increase dietary fat content. Traditionally, corn oil was a popular choice, however, with the interest in omega-3 fatty acids, its use has declined as corn oil contains virtually no omega-3 fatty acid. Other popular grocery store oils include soybean oil, canola oil and vegetable oil. All of these add calories and provide varying low levels of omega-3 fatty acid, but most are extracted from their source seeds using chemical extraction techniques. Such techniques strip these oils of compounds such as polyphenols and flavonoids that could have added benefit to the horse. They also leave behind traces of the chemicals used for extraction, such as hexane.
A better extraction technique, and the one we employ here at Enviro Equine for our OmegaBalance camelina oil, is to cold press the seeds. This method relies on mechanical extraction, which protects the beneficial compounds in the oil that are damaged by heat and chemical extraction. Additionally, cold pressing leaves no chemical residue in the final product.
While the benefits of feeding fat to horses are many, there is a dark side: rancidity. All fats are at risk of oxidation, however, omega-3 fats are particularly susceptible to becoming rancid. When fats are oxidized, compounds are created that are damaging to the body, leading to oxidative stress. This has consequences not only on performance, but also health. Freshness of oils and fat sources is measured by testing peroxide levels. Fats and oils are generally considered to be fresh and safe when peroxide values are between 1 and 10 mEq/kg of fat. Tests of some horse feeds have shown levels as high as 32 mEq/kg of fat. Antioxidants such as vitamin E are necessary to combat rancidity. This is why most high fat horse feeds tend to contain higher levels of vitamin E than other lower fat options.
With its high omega-3 content, the camelina oil in Enviro Equine’s OmegaBalance should be at high risk of rancidity, but this is not the case thanks to the high levels of naturally occurring vitamin E found within camelina seeds and transferred to the oil. The Camelina oil in Enviro Equine’s OmegaBalance contains 12 times more vitamin E than olive oil, four times more than sunflower oil and six times more than flax oil. While the level of naturally occurring vitamin E in Camelina oil is not enough to make a major contribution to the horse’s daily vitamin E requirement, it makes the oil exceptionally stable, thus guaranteeing freshness for many months. The peroxide values for the Camelina oil in Enviro Equine’s OmegaBalance are routinely tested and found to be below 2 mEq/kg fat.
Despite the fact that Enviro Equine’s OmegaBalance is exceptionally stable and could happily sit on shelves for many months, we believe in bringing you a product that is as fresh as possible. For this reason, our Camelina oil is pressed year-round on demand, bottled quickly thereafter and shipped to you for immediate use.
If you are feeding oil to your horses, ask yourselves the following questions:
- How was the oil extracted chemically or cold-pressed?
- How is it preserved chemically or naturally?
- What is its peroxide value?
With all the benefits that feeding oil can bring to your horse, make sure that the oil you are feeding is not contributing to free radical damage and oxidative stress.