HAIR ANALYSIS FOR NUTRITIONAL STATUS?
Many horse owners believe if their animals are in good body condition, it is not possible for them to be having any vitamin or mineral deficiencies in their diet. Very often the physical, clinical, or visible signs do not appear until the horse is under increased stress from showing, hard work, foaling or any other change to routine. Still other times the visible signs of deficiency do not appear until the animal reaches middle age or beyond. So how can we determine if our animals are receiving a balanced and adequate diet for their requirements?
The only scientifically proven method is by doing a complete analysis of what the animal is consuming. This is the livestock industry standard method whether it is dairy, beef, swine, poultry, ovine or equine. It begins with laboratory forage analysis. The forage sample should be taken by someone that is familiar with the process. If dry hay is to be sampled it needs to be done using a hay probe. Several bales will be cored to get an accurate analysis. Grabbing a handful of hay and trying to sample it this was is unacceptable, although I see it done all the time.
In a perfect world every time you receive a shipment of hay or if you grow your own, every time you harvest a crop it should be tested. Most successful dairy farms sample their forage every month or every time they either open a new silage bag or received a new shipment. From this information the diets are tweaked to keep the animals in peak performance. Why as horse owners don’t we demand the same?
Once the forage analysis is in hand it is a simple process of inputting the numbers into a software program. Any grain or concentrates and vitamin mineral supplements are also put into the program. The final step is calculating the horse’s requirements based on age, use, and type of animal. The program will show any deficiencies that may be occurring and simple changes can be made to the diet of the animal.
As explained above this is the only proven scientific method to analyze a horses nutritional state, be very skeptical if someone tries to lead you to believe otherwise. There are many companies that do a very good job of convincing people to purchase costly unnecessary supplements and during these tough economic times it is important to spend every dime wisely.
A good example of these dubious claims is “hair analysis”. In the medical profession this is better known as “Quackery” and they go so far as telling patients to run if a human physician should even suggest it.
Hair analysis is a test in which a sample of an animal or human’s hair is sent to a laboratory for measurement of its mineral content. This type of analysis is used to determine values for many minerals simultaneously and can be used as the basis for prescribing supplements.
Proponents of hair analysis claim that is is useful for evaluating the general state of nutrition and health and is valuable in detecting predisposition to disease. They also claim that hair analysis can determine mineral deficiency, imbalance, or heavy metal pollutants in the body. These claims are false.
The level of certain minerals can be affected by the color, diameter and rate of growth of an individual’s hair, the season of the year, the geographic location and the age and gender. Horse hair is contaminated by soil, manure, urine, and sweat. The almost universal diagnosis from these hair analysis is aluminum toxicity, which is the most abundant mineral on the earth’s crust!
I have heard of people who have sent in hair samples from the same horse taken in different areas of the body just to check with out telling the lab. They are given two completely different results and suggestions for supplements. Do not become a victim of this scam. Have you ever wondered why other industries, like dairy and beef have never gotten involved in this type of nutrition analysis? Many times they have a lot more money at stake in terms of animal production than the horse industry yet they don’t use this technique to determine a dairy cow’s mineral status.
Remember good body condition in an animal only indicates calories are being met. The only tried and true measure of a horse’s nutritional state is to analyze everything the horse is consuming and compare this with its requirements.