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Zinc – Is Your Horse Getting Enough?

An essential mineral for immune, metabolic and behavioural health, and more.

Zinc is one of 15 mineral elements which are necessary for your horse to grow, repair and function properly. It is an essential cofactor in hundreds of enzymatic processes, and as many as a thousand transcription factors. Zinc is involved in the regulation of apoptosis, making it an important element to consider when dealing with any kind of cancer or unwanted growth. It is also an important general free-radical scavenger, protecting against oxidative damage to DNA and cells, and it provides broad-spectrum antiviral support, for viruses ranging from herpes simplex to colds and influenza. Zinc is essential for metabolic health, with good zinc status supporting good insulin sensitivity. It is essential for the health and function of the brain and central nervous system, regulating excitability, and enhancing neuroplasticity (ability to learn and adapt). Zinc is essential for good skin health, and deficiency is often made apparent as a susceptibility to skin conditions in horses (mud fever, greasy heel, rain scald, scurfy skin), as well as slow-healing wounds.

A Widespread Deficiency in Australia

Low zinc is one of the most widespread deficiencies in Australian soils, therefore it is a common deficiency of feed crops and grazing animals. Unfertilised, sandy and limey soils are particularly low in zinc, and horses grazing any of these zinc-deficient soil types will certainly need to be provided supplementary zinc in their diet. Since dietary zinc has such a high safety margin (approximately ten times the base requirement), it would be reasonable to assume that supplementary zinc can be safely included in all equine diets, and ensure an adequate intake, rather than risk a deficiency.  

How Much Zinc Does My Horse Need?

International nutritional guidelines recommend horses receive at least 80mg of zinc per day, per 100kg of bodyweight, for a horse who is idle or in light work. Horses in heavy work generally require 125% of an idle horse’s requirement, or 100mg/100kg bodyweight. Pregnant and lactating mares will require 185mg/100kg bodyweight, while growing horses require a whopping 268mg/100kg bodyweight.

Keeping the Balance

It’s important to keep zinc levels balanced in relation to copper. The generally accepted ratio is 1:3, copper to zinc. Since zinc has a high safety margin, it is possible to raise the daily zinc intake well above the minimum requirement, to allow for a higher copper intake. For a mature horse, the upper tolerable limit is 5000mg/day, or ten times the minimum requirement for an idle horse. Zinc intakes are often raised for performance horses, and high zinc intake has been associated with better production in piggeries. Such high levels are not generally recommended, though, and are considered an environmental risk, when so much excess zinc is excreted into the soils (as faeces), and eventually leaches into waterways or underground water supplies. Additionally, high dietary iron will inhibit the uptake of zinc (and copper). Therefore, horses being fed iron supplements will need their zinc (and copper) intake adjusted accordingly, and zinc levels monitored. Iron intake (mg/day) should not exceed zinc by more than 140%. When low iron is a concern, it may be vigilant to assess copper status first, since low copper is common, and copper is required for absorption and utilisation of iron.  

Supplementing Zinc in Practice

The easiest way to supplement zinc is to provide your horse with a good quality general-purpose mineral supplement. MacroMin provides 810mg of zinc per 125g serving (for a 500kg horse), which more than meets the need of idle horses, up to those in heavy work. Usage rates can be adjusted to suit breeding and growing stock, and you will also be supplying your horse with other essential and beneficial minerals and micronutrients, in a convenient, single daily supplement.

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