Tempting molasses

It’s good to remember too much of a sweet thing isn’t a good thing, writes Kim Dyson.
Issue date : 19 June 2009

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It’s good to remember too much of a sweet thing isn’t a good thing, writes Kim Dyson.

In the 19th century, molasses was introduced into animal feed. Molasses is syrup that comes from boiling down the sap of various products high in one or another form of sugar. It can be produced from citrus, sugar beet, sorghum and grain such as maize. The molasses used in horse feed mainly contains sugarcane.

There are many advantages to using molasses. It helps reduce the dustiness of most grain-based feeds, which in turn reduces allergies and respiratory disorders. Molasses also helps bind the feed, especially if pelleted. Its stickiness prevents the feed from separating. It also acts as a wonderful carrier for supplements and medicine. The pleasant aroma and sweet taste makes it palatable to most animals.
Molasses consists of 50% sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose, which is why it’s such a digestible source of energy. This makes it easily accessible as a convenient, relatively cheap boost for work horses.

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Unfortunately, there isn’t only good news. Molasses has become a standard inclusion in most feeds. However, as in human nutrition, sweetness is not always goodness. Sweet feeds have a much shorter shelf-life because they cake in the bag and attract all sorts of hungry little creatures, including flies.Because they taste so nice, most horses wolf down their molasses-fortified rations. This decreases the overall digestibility of the feed. Molasses is also filled with empty, quick-burning calories which makes it expensive in relation to the nutrition it provides.

Spiking insulin
Then there’s the insulin spike. Molasses is turned into sugar in the foregut. This increases the sugar level in the blood and creates a sugar high which can interfere with a horse’s ability to perform. If you have children and feed them sweets, you’ll be familiar with the results. Just like children love sugar, so do horses.
The sudden sugar rush floods the bloodstream and the pancreas reacts by producing insulin. Like most children with attention deficit, your horse will be hot and unable to concentrate on jumping, racing or any other event.

It’s very important to realise blood glucose and insulin are high at the start of exercise. These levels only drop rapidly when the hard work starts. This is why it’s really important to use fast, medium and slow-release energy when feeding your performance horse.

Research has found spiking insulin doesn’t only affect immediate performance, but has a long-term effect on cartilage, bone development and body function, which can become noticeable. As with all things in life, a good dose of balance will go a long way to preventing any major problems. As long as your horse has an adequate supply of roughage and a balanced ration, you are being a responsible owner.Contact Kim Dyson on 082 888 6511.     |fw