Protein may be the most misunderstood and inaccurate % in a hay analysis test. Most horse owners and caretakers determine the hay protein level by looking at the percentage value on a hay test in the line item labeled, “Crude Protein”. This crude protein % does not accurately reflect the true percentage of the amount of protein from that feed. Crude Protein (CP) % is actually an estimate determined by measuring the total amount of nitrogen in that sample of feed. This outdated calculated formula was developed in 1883 and is still in use today. That was long before synthetic nitrogen was developed in the 1940’s, and since its development, there has been no new testing formula, which takes that into consideration. In the 1880’s, Danish chemist Johan Kjeldahl, discovered that all proteins contain “about” the same % of nitrogen and based on that, determining the % of nitrogen and multiplying it by 6.25 you can fairly accurately account for the protein. That is the basis of the test, laboratories still use today.
Newer and deeper science determined that nitrogen is a partial ingredient of amino acids. Those amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Just because there are excessive amounts of nitrogen, does not mean that the nitrogen is actually part of an amino acid that in turn is part of a protein. Lots of nitrogen does not mean that the DNA of the plant is going to call them up for duty, and become protein. Thus, it is possible to have an accurate test result of a hay sample showing 18% crude protein (CP) and the digestible protein actually only be 7%, and of the amino acids contained within that protein, none may be the “essential” amino acids.
Further, synthetic nitrogen is used in amounts that compare to 20x the amount naturally found in organic fertilizer. Imagine that. It makes perfect sense. A farmer puts down 20x the amount as nature provided and “bam” he gets a plant grown to its maximum capability. The nitrogen seeps into the earth, feeds the roots and is absorbed into the roots, goes up to be called to duty; the grass is cut and tested and it shows a high level of nitrogen. In 1883, when there was no synthetic nitrogen, that comparison was “about” accurate.
Just because a farmer chooses to use five, ten, or twenty times the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer as would be provided by Mother Nature, doesn’t mean that the resulting hay will make any difference in the results of the subject horse being fed. Not one of the thirty plus Universities or reputable laboratories we work with, knows of a test that determines a true analysis of digestible protein. Nor have they given us any evidence of research that they are going to develop such a test. We are currently doing that, ourselves. In fact, this information only supports our position, which is; we do not know the actual amount of digestible protein in grass hay by using this outdated industry standard. We provide you with the hay test results but feel it is important to disclaim what we know and believe.
It is a fact that in hay testing today, the % of crude protein is truly just a test of nitrogen levels in a hay sample, and not the actual digestible protein level of the hay. All the while, horse caretakers have been concentrating on crude protein levels and failing to learn the importance of the mineral content elements of the hay.
In conclusion, we’ll make the “protein” section of the hay test very simple; a horse needs 22 amino acids. Horses cannot produce 9 of those amino acids and is required to get them from their diet. When you are concerned with the protein found in your hay, have an amino acid profile test done, not a general hay mineral test. The amino acid profile test of hay will provide you with the more important information, which is; of the protein provided in the hay, what percentage of it is in the form of the “essential” amino acids (the ones the horse cannot develop on its own).
For more information on this and many other considerations of hay importance, contact
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