Pass the Carrots: Beta-Carotene for HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · February 23, 2011
Most horses love carrots as an occasional treat. But do they have a real need for beta-carotene, perhaps the vegetable's best-known nutrient?
Beta-carotene is a naturally occurring plant pigment that's readily obtained by horses grazing lush pasture. A typical horse (1,100 pounds; 500 kilograms) on pasture consuming 1.5-2% of its body weight as forage would consume approximately 3,000 milligrams of natural beta-carotene daily. Due to beta-carotene losses during hay processing and storage, a confined horse would consume approximately 300 milligrams.
Though its primary functions are as the major precursor to vitamin A and as an antioxidant, beta-carotene has been shown to enhance immunity and be beneficial to reproduction. It is found in abundance in the mare's colostrum and corpus luteum. There is also evidence it is beneficial for stallion fertility.
Beta-carotene could be supplemented to breeding animals, especially gestating and lactating mares that foal during early spring after being wintered on stored roughages low in natural beta-carotene. Recommended supplementation rates would be from 500 to 1000 milligrams per day.
Because all commercial sources of supplemental beta-carotene are not equally bioavailable, it is important to supplement a horse with the most biologically absorbed source of beta-carotene. "Micellized" sources of beta-carotene allow for more efficient absorption and uptake.
Read more in Advances in Equine Nutrition IV.