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Highlights from the 8th BETA Feed Conference

By BETA

Claire Williams, of the British Equestrian Trade Association, provides highlights from the eighth BETA Feed Conference, which took place on 27 June at St Johns Hotel, Solihull.

The BETA Feed Conference was set up to meet the needs of those working in the feed industry. This includes retailers who sell feed products, manufacturers, suppliers, equine nutritionists and university lecturers. Over the years, it has continued to grow in popularity and has now established itself as a key event in the feed sector calendar.

This time, the event – supported by Premier Equine – welcomed more than 100 delegates through its doors for a busy day of specialist presentations on a diverse range of highly topical subjects.

Professor Meriel Moore-Colyer, director of research and knowledge exchange at the Royal Agricultural University, provided a whistle-stop tour of forage and updated delegates on current thinking. The fact the horse has evolved to utilise a high-fibre diet defines its digestive system, its endocrine system and its mental health.

It is excellent, therefore, that there is now a research group with a focus on understanding fibre sources, including forage, in equine diets – not only from a nutritional, but also a hygienic, perspective. The concept that grass products do not just provide a nutrient package, but also a microbial load, and that these vary, was a key part of Professor Moore-Colyer’s presentation.

University of Liverpool director of veterinary postgraduate education Professor Catherine McGowan explored changes in our understanding of laminitis in a lengthy and in-depth talk on the different factors involved in the development of this painful condition.

Her key message for delegates was that about 90% of field cases of laminitis occur as a result of endocrine disruption and the subsequent laminitis is a sign of another pre-existing subclinical process. The endocrine factor identified is an abnormal insulin response, now termed insulin dysregulation. Fundamental changes associated with laminitis have been identified as a change in the structure and functionality of the lamellae rather than their degradation, as previously thought.

As her finale, Professor McGowan debunked the fructan myth. Fructans in grass were previously considered potentiators of laminitis but, in turning that thinking on its head with some intake data, she argued that the low intakes of fructans seen at typical grass intakes might in fact be beneficial, acting in a similar way to the fructo-oligosaccharide ingredients added to feeds and used as prebiotics.

Mars Horsecare director of science Dr Pat Harris, also a member of the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition's equine studies group, looked at the way in which nutrition was associated with recent developments in equine gastric ulcers. She described a field study that looked at the effects of dietary intervention in 58 horses identified as having gastric ulcers and put commercial products – Winergy Growth and Spillers HDF Power Cubes – to the test, using them in a 50:50 combination.

Professor Harris pointed out that, although there are many areas requiring further research in the field of gastric ulcers, the results from this study were a clear indicator that dietary management can play a part in the management of at-risk animals. Omeprazole might be the king of treatments, but it is not intended for long-term use, and proof that low starch and sugar dietary strategies can work post-treatment is welcome news for owners of at-risk animals.

In her presentation, Professor Harris also turned the spotlight on alfalfa and gastric heath. In the past couple of years, studies have been published showing increased gastric ulceration in foals fed an alfalfa diet, leading to concerns in many quarters that alfalfa might itself have a role to play as a cause of gastric ulcers. Professor Harris added some much need balance to this debate, pointing out that, in the particular study, the foals were fed a relatively high amount (3kg) of alfalfa and the physical characteristics of the alfalfa might have exerted an adverse mechanical effect on the gastric mucosa.

Ben Mayes, of Mayes & Scrine Equine Veterinary Practice and a former British Equine Veterinary Association president, looked at the relationship between the feed industry and veterinary world in an aptly titled talk, “A Veterinary View”. He emphasised that goodwill was a key ingredient in maintaining good relations and noted that, although feed companies were extremely efficient in working with large yards and professional riders, it was something that vets didn't do enough of and he would like to them getting more involved in this area.

Political commentator John Arnold provided a topical talk on Brexit, looking at the current political climate and the negotiations and potential for new trade opportunities as we prepare to move away from Europe.

Food Standards Agency feed delivery manager Julie Benson highlighted the organisation's vision to safeguard public and animal health by driving up sustained improvements in business compliance through intelligence-led enforcement. She emphasised the extremely successful relationship the FSA enjoys with the equine feed industry and provided examples of how this has led to the prevention of over-zealous enforcement by Trading Standards.

Risk Evolves managing director Helen Barge looked at ways in which small companies could plan for potential disruption risks to their business operations and supply chains. Putting a continuity plan in place, she stressed, was the key to dealing with problems such as the loss of key members of staff and cybercrime.

BETA was extremely pleased with just how well the conference went and the feedback to date has been amazing. It would seem that our panel of feed industry experts certainly hit the mark with our delegates, including many of the country's leading equine feed manufacturers and one of its largest independent retailers.

The line up of speakers shows – left to right – Professor Catherine McGowan, Professor Meriel Moore-Colyer and Dr Pat Harris.

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