I decided to head to Lexington, KY to go to an event I’d never been to before even though this is its 27th year. This year’s event is called “the Game Changers” and it’s Alltech’s annual international Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium taking place in Lexington, KY, May 22-25.
Alltech these days is best known for its sponsorship of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games held last year at the Kentucky Horse Park. More recently Alltech announced its sponsorship of the National Horse Show, an event that I handled the PR for years when it was held at Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City. That event has changed homes over the years but now has found a permanent location to bring back an event that once filled the seats at the Garden.
While we may think of Alltech as having a lot to do with horses, in fact equine is just a small part of their focus. Pigs, poultry, cows and more are all part of the learning experience that over 2200 people, from 72 countries and 46 states have come to.
With my busy schedule I decided to focus on the equine seminars which started at 1:00 on Monday afternoon and continued through 4:30 at 20 minute intervals with a half hour break.
Each one focused on a different topic with a unique learning curve.
Ingrid Vervuert, a senior scientist from the University of Leipzig, Germany who also has a host of other credentials has vast experience in equine nutrition. She focused on the glycemic index (GI) of feedstuffs which covered the metabolic consequences of starch intake in horses, feeding performance horses and more.
Of concern to those who live in Kentucky are the affects from the rich Kentucky bluegrass focusing on the glycemic response to pasture intake. One of Ingrid’s messages was that there is a need to limit the horse’s starch intake.
Andrea Ellis spoke next and took on the topic of whether we really understand the feeding behavior of our horses and the problems the equine nutritionist faces.
Andrea is from Nottingham Trent University in Southwell, UK and is a Senior Lecturer as well as the Program Leader for MSc in Equine Health and Welfare.
She opened her presentation posing the question of why horses want to eat and chew all the time and provided some facts that were pretty surprising. Over 24 hours on average horses graze for approximately 13 hours if they are out in pasture and in the spring grass that number can increase to 18 hours, especially for lactating mares who need to gain back their fat content after the winter has depleted it.
Of course we need to be mindful of the grazing process because of the fact that horses do not typically self regulate. And in places where grazing is not available that poses its own issues for these animals that thrive on chewing and grazing.
“When we change the behavior, the horse replaces it with other things,” explained Andrea. Not every horse is turned out in a pasture to be able to chew and so they are fed hay, pellets and other supplements in a stall environment and so the time they spend chewing is diminished significantly. So, the fact pellets take far less chews than hay, becomes significant.
Andrea noted, “The challenge for the nutritionist is how do you keep horses chewing without getting fat.” (Ahh but don’t we humans also have that same problem.) The nutritionist focus then becomes how do you ensure they get the nutrition they need while also satisfying their need to chew without endangering their health in the process.
Fitting scientific advances in equine nutrition into practical feeding programs was the topic covered by David Van Doorn, who does equine nutrition research for Cavalor in Drongen, Belgium. Van Doorn’s education focused on Animal Husbandry and Animal Science.
Van Doorn talked about putting science into knowledge and transferring practical knowledge to the equine community.
“In my opinion nutrition is getting more and more complex,” he commented. He explained that the first effort at taking a more professional approach to horse feeding was way back in the days of the military.
“Nowadays,” he commented, “its about fitting scientific advances in equine nutrition into practical feeding programs.”
Understanding optimal levels for horses to perform is also important. “In general there is a lack of scientific support for the health affects that are claimed for ingredients applied in equine supplements or feed,” explained Van Doorn. “There is no independent quality rating system for horse supplements that includes ranking the scientific support for the use of an ingredient or product.”
A multidisciplinary approach to the health and nutrition of the equine athlete is needed because there are so many things that influence their nutrition.
Dr. Amanda A. Adams from the Gluck Equine Research Center, University of Kentucky spoke about weaning, the stress the foals go through and how that compromises (suppresses) their immune system. Very often they are more susceptible to respiratory problems during and post weaning.
The weaning process has many levels, including maternal separation, abrupt changes in diet, social isolation, and environmental and management changes.
The physiological signs of stress in the weanling are often shown by increased heart rate, decreased daily weight gain and increased cortisol secretion.
Dr. Adams referred to a study which was done where they abruptly weaned the foals and took blood pre and post. They used the blood to see what was going on in the weanling at that time. It took them 21 days to get back to normal.
Dr. Adams feels we need to look further into how to minimize the stress on a foal (abrupt, gradual, fence-line, pair or single weaning), including through nutrition because almost 70% of the immune system is in the gut. Because of this probiotics are a good alternative
These live organisms help maintain that good bacteria in the gut. They can help stimulate the immune system in a good way.
Adams believes that if you feed yeast prior to weaning this would help restore the microflora which helps to balance the immune system. Feeding prebiotics is also good for the foal’s immune system, especially since food stays in the hind gut (colon) for 16-18 hours.
“You are what you eat,” is how Dr. Adams concluded her presentation.
Dr. Catherine Dunnett and Dr. Mark Dunnett both spoke on “The Contamination Dilemma: How can we keep our feed safe.”
They spoke about the fact that we should be concerned about the affect of heavy metals and the contamination of trace minerals (lead, arsenic, mercury). He further clarified that Alltech rejects any raw materials that don’t meet the proper levels.
NOPS were the letters used to refer to Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances and how the racing world was affected by positive samples that they didn’t understand and how the blood samples that tested positive had a negative effect on the integrity of racing.
There was the feeling that these positives were the fault of the feed manufacturers. This was not confined to racing but also to FEI competitions. But how were they to deal with these issues.
They ultimately realized that there were lots of other ways that the feed and supplements being fed to horses could be contaminated after they left the manufacturer and before they were fed to the horse, such as during transport, during storage with other products, in the internal transport and distribution. Once this information was analyzed and they saw where the problems were occurring they were able to dramatically reduce the post race positives.
In addition to all of the above they also looked more closely into caffeine and herbs and also came to the conclusion that some people think because they are natural there would not be a problem but that is not true.
Ultimately it’s all about knowing the risks, due diligence, traceability, retention of finished product samples, and product analysis.
Tania A. Cubitt PhD, from Performance Horse Nutrition in Virginia, was the final speaker of the day and she spoke about Social Media strategies for helping to promote and grow your equine business. Dr. Cubitt received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Queensland and Animal Science and Master’s from Virginia Tech in Equine Nutrition and Growth.
She began by delving out some facts noting that nearly 80% of U.S. adults are on the internet. As an adult you can outgrow hair styles and clothes but you don’t outgrow the internet. Statistics show that 78% of adults use the internet before they buy an expensive item, stay at a hotel, or go to a restaurant, etc. and so this is proof positive that being on the internet is critical.
“It’s all about staying in touch,” she explained, noting that we like to be a little bit noisy and so in a way with our blogs, forums, tweets we are controlling information on the internet.
Dr. Cubitt further talked about how as adults we want to interact so that we can get to know and trust you. We want to feel confident in the product we are buying. Advertising speaks at the consumer but social media is about having the more personal conversation.
Social media is that new age conversation. It is used to share content, opinions, insight, experiences, perspectives and media with each other. It’s the digital word-of-mouth.
When you start looking at social media from a business perspective the goal is to drive traffic to your web site. There are tons of social media sites but probably the ones people are most familiar with are Facebook and Twitter.
Originally it was more personal but now it’s expanded to having fan and business pages and it’s even easier now to create a name that makes sense.
So, there you have it. When dealing with social media know what you want to accomplish and integrate it into your current marketing plan. Remember that your goal is to push everything to your web site because this is just another way to help get information out to the consumer.
The final event of the evening was called Kentucky Night with over 1800 people enjoying dinner and dancing at the famous Alltech indoor arena. The food consisted of a variety of Alltech products including Angus beef and Kentucky Ale, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, and Kentucky Light, all beers brewed by Alltech, Lexington’s only locally-brewed beers. Alltech has its own brewing company right in Lexington.
The day was both educational and fun. I’ve got another great day filled with information so be sure to check out my next report on Alltech’s 27th Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium. And don’t forget to subscribe so you can be alerted when more reports about what’s happening around the nation go up on this web page.