Bacteria. The horse is home to an enormous vat (the Cecum) of bacteria and when you feed your horse its important to keep the bacteria in mind. Upset these little guys and your horse (and your bank balance) will pay the price. Here's why:
About the Cecum
The cecum is a blind sack approximately four-feet long that can hold up to 40 quarts (approx 10 UK gallons) of food and fluid.
The cecum is a microbial inoculation vat. The microbes break down feed that was not digested in the small intestine, particularly fibrous feeds like hay.
Feed will remain in the cecum for about seven hours, which gives the bacteria time to start breaking it down. The microbes will produce vitamin K, B-complex vitamins, proteins, and fatty acids. The vitamins and fatty acids will be absorbed, but little if any protein.
The microbial population in the cecum is somewhat specific as to what feedstuffs it can digest.
If a change of feed occurs, it takes about three weeks to develop a microbial population that can digest a new feed and maintain a normal flow through the cecum.
A general rule for safely changing feeds:
Week 1: Feed a mix of three-fourths of the old ration and one-fourth of the new ration.
Week 2: Feed a mix of one-half of the old ration and one-half of the new ration.
Week 3: Feed a mix of one-fourth of the old ration and three-fourths of the new ration.
Week 4: Feed all new ration.
Be aware that sudden switches between different feed qualities result in rapid changes to the bacterial mix and the sudden death of the less favoured bacteria.
Death of large numbers of bacteria will, in turn, lead to the release of large amounts of endotoxin from the bacteria.
If this happens your horse could get laminitis or colic which are the two leading causes of death in the domestic equine. So much unnecessary death, so easily preventable.
A future blog will have a look at the stomach and digestion more generally. And probably more about the evils of sugar! :-)