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[RC] feeding flax seed - Susan Garlinghouse

Sue, know you adressed this once, but doesn't whole flax have to be
Reason I ask; friends just bought 25 lbs of Flax seed at feed store (about
to help with coat and shine...

The short answer:  IMO, no.  <g>

The long answer as to why not:  there are two arguments as to why flax seed
needs to be ground or cooked before being fed, so lemme take them one at a
Argument One, because flax seed contains a cyanogenic glycoside which is
toxic and has to be driven off either through exposure to air or cooking.
That's true that flax does contain a cyanogenic glycoside...however, the
only reports of flax (actually, linseed meal) ever causing toxicity in
livestock were in cattle fed unprocessed linseed meal exclusively in large
amounts.  Part of the equation in causing toxicity is that the glycosides
have to be broken down to their toxic components by enzymes (glycosideases)
in the gut.  Due to their ruminant physiology, ruminants have alot of the
enzyme in their GI system, but horses do not---not enough to cause the
slightest toxicity problems unless fed almost exclusively, which is
unlikely.  A few cups a day of flax seed is quite safe for any equine, and
the only "hazard" associated with it is because the seeds are small and
fairly light and so fairly easily snorted up the wrong way and potentially
into the lungs.  So...just feed it mixed with something else, like tossed
into the mash.

BTW, since I'm no botanist, I had a nice discussion about this with Tony
Knight at CSU about this and he was the one that told me all of the above.
Dr. Knight is a boarded veterinary internist, but is also a botanist and
co-authors the vast majority of texts you'll see on plant poisonings in
livestock.  So I figured he's a pretty decent source of information on the
topic.  :-)

Another reason I disagree with cooking flax (I know you only asked about
grinding, but thought I'd kill two birds here) has to do with why we even
feed flax seed, primarily for the omega-3 fatty acid content.  Those fatty
acids are very volatile and rendered nonfunctional (in other words, just a
fat source no different from any other heat processed source) once they've
been cooked.  So you've lost the benefit you were after in the first place.
At that point, they're still an okay protein source and are a nice Warm N'
Fuzzy thing to do for your horse, but as an EFA source---nope.

The second argument in support of grinding is that horses can't digest the
hard seed coating unless it's been disrupted by grinding it.  The primary
problem I have with that is similar to the above discussion---those fatty
acids are pretty volatile and start to degrade/oxidize to one extent or
another as soon as it's exposed to air.  So fast that they're useless in a
flash, nah, unlikely.  But I do question how much of the original value is
left in a product where the flax seed has been commercially ground, exposed
to the normal heat of processing,  and then packed into plastic bags an
unknown amount of time later.  If the ground flax is also shipped and stored
in hot trucks or warehouses before it's finally purchased, then more value
is lost.  How much, I honestly don't know.  I just know that the components
for decomposition are present.

So *can* horses disrupt the seed coat enough by themselves to extract the
fatty acids in their orignial form?  I can't quantify it, and to my
knowledge clinical data doesn't exist.  I just gave it a try on my own
little herd of six, who are fed the same ration as another six equids
(horses and mules) on the place.  My guys snarfed the stuff up without
grinding or cooking and even the 38 year old mule's coat really bloomed.
They had thicker, softer, shinier coats all fall and winter, better hoof
quality, they were the first to start shedding out this spring and all of
them have really nice coats right now, noticeably better than the other guys
who didn't get flax.  Sure, it's a question whether they extracted all the
nutrients from the flax and I don't know what the response would have been
had I supplemented them with pre-processed flax.  I just know that I got a
good response from the whole flax, I know I'm a pretty good objective
observer and that's good enough for me.  :-)

So, LOTS more than you really wanted to know, huh?

Susan G

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