Equine Colic and Direct-fed Microbial Products

Colic. The five-letter word that all horse owners fear. Many horses experience colic of various degrees

at some point in their lives. Understanding colic and your horse’s susceptibility can lead to a

management program to reduce the incidence or severity of colic. However, colic may occur due to

many reasons and no horse should be considered "safe" from colic.

Research studies are attempting to determine the exact causes of colic; however, the answers seem to

be evasive. .

  All breeds of horses are susceptible to colic, and gender does not influence the likelihood

of colic. Parasite infection, soil consumption, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, strenuous exercise,

or shifts from heavy exercise to no exercise are among the many situations pre-disposing a horse to

colic. Changes in a horse’s day-to-day activities or schedule alter the body’s metabolism and digestive

tract function.

  A steady, constant environment and schedule is the healthiest for your horse.

Over-feeding of grain, or even high-concentrate consumption, is cited as the most frequent cause of

colic. A confounding factor is that horses fed large amounts of grain are generally undergoing intense

training or performance events. However, the greater the grain content of the diet, the greater the risk of

colic. Starch from grain and any dietary fat needs to be digested and absorbed in the small intestine.

Enzymes breakdown starch into its building block units of glucose, which in turn are absorbed by the

horse. Unfortunately, the limited amount of starch-digesting enzymes secreted by horses may be

overwhelmed when high levels of concentrates are fed. Undigested starch flow from the small intestine

to the forage fermentation vat, known as the large intestine. Starch fermentation changes the microbial

balance and pH of the large intestine. Many researchers and horse people cite excessive digestion of

starch in the large intestine as the greatest cause of colic.

The equine digestive tract features a large intestine design to ferment and utilize grazed forages and


 Enhancing the microbial population and environment of the large intestine would increase the

extraction of energy from forages consumed by the horse. Horses with high-energy requirements should

be fed prime-quality hay and then fed a concentrate to fill the energy deficit.

  Research studies suggest that beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Enterococcus

faecium, could aid in starch digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Increasing starch utilization

in the small intestine would reduce the starch flowing to the large intestine, thereby lowering the potential

for digestive upset. Yeast culture (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is noted for increasing the populations of

fiber-digesting and pH-stabilizing bacteria for a more efficient utilization of forages. Supplementing a

direct-fed microbial product featuring beneficial bacteria and yeast culture could theoretically increase

energy utilization of forages, improve the efficiency of starch utilization and reduce the level of

concentrates needed by a horse.

An excellent-quality hay or forage is the basis of a sound horse nutrition program. Some horse owners

and trainers supplementing the Fastrack® direct-fed microbial products to their horses report the ability to

maintain excellent performance and condition in their horses while lowering the concentrate proportion of

the diet. Horses vary greatly in their metabolism and digestive efficiencies, and should be monitored

individually for their response to the Fastrack products and need for concentrates to obtain optimal

results. The Fastrack products do not prevent or treat colic. However, many horse owners and trainers

utilize the Fastrack products as management tools in their nutrition and performance programs.

Contact Conklin Co. Inc. (551 Valley Park Drive; Shakopee, MN 55379; for more information on direct-fed microbials

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