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The benefits of feeding coconut/copra meal to horses.

If your horse struggles with insulin resistance, metabolic disorders, over-excitability or any one of a number of equine health issues it is time to consider a higher fat and higher fibre diet instead of feeding grain diets.

Copra meal can give you this nutritional combination

Coconut, or copra meal as it is affectionately known, is a by-product of coconut oil production. Copra meal is the meal that is left over after coconut oil is extracted from the white flesh part of the inside of the coconut and it typically has a brown colour.

The main benefits of feeding coconut meal to horses are:

Low sugar/low starch content:

Copra meal has a low non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content and contains less than 2% starch, so it is less likely to cause starch-related metabolic issues such as colic up and laminitis. It can also serve as a better alternative to other commercial equine feeds that contains high levels of starch and sugar. Horses that struggle with insulin resistance can be fed copra meal without it having an effect on the glycaemic response of the horse.

Medium chain fatty acids

MCTs (medium chain triglycerides or fatty acids) refers to the chain length of the fatty acids. Oils can contain various chain length fatty acids (short, medium and long chain). Coconut oil is rich in the medium chain fatty acid called lauric acid, which has powerful antimicrobial effects. In fact, coconut oil is nature’s richest source of lauric acid (45%) and its health benefits are the reason why humans also show particular interest in the oil. The medium chains are more rapidly absorbed and metabolised than the longer chain triglycerides

Because coconut oil is a saturated fat it does not become rancid as quickly as polyunsaturated fats. Coconut oil contains the lowest level of omega-6 fatty acids of any plant-based oil and in horses an oversupply of omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation. In commercial equine diets there is a general oversupply of omega-6 fatty acids with the feeding of soybean meal and maize.

Energy density

The saturated fat from coconut meal is digested and absorbed directly into the blood, providing non glucose ready energy. Coconut oil (and other oils) are also more energy dense than energy sources such as maize (starch), sugar (molasses) and protein. For instance, if the diet of a horse contains a certain amount of oil, the need for other energy sources decreases significantly. By supplying coconut meal with a high fat content, it makes the diet of the horse more caloric dense enabling the horse to eat larger quantities of fibre. This is the animal’s preferred diet without losing weight and decreasing performance. Fats are also the major contributor to a shiny coat and is very often referred to as ‘’cool’’ trainable energy for your horse.


The percentage of digestible fibre (hemicellulose) is comparable to fresh, early vegetative grasses. Horses are hindgut fermenters that have the ability to digest large volumes of roughage and convert it into energy. However, horses’ small intestine struggles to cope with large amounts of starch that ultimately lands up in the large intestine and decreases the hind guts pH which leads to inflammation and metabolic issues. Coconut oil is also unique because it does not store fat like the longer chain oils – the body converts the MCTs found in coconut meal into fuel for muscle activity.

Which coconut meal should you buy and how is it fed?

  • Make sure it is aflatoxin free and is free from pesticides and herbicides.
  • Quality copra meal contains up to 18% oil.
  • The copra oil extraction was done through mechanical extraction and not chemical extraction.
  • The NSC content is below 12%.
  • Fresh copra is better to feed because horses don’t like rancid products and are quite sensitive to that.
  • Water availability is crucial and it is better fed with water mixed (1:2 copra:water). This improves palatability.
  • Feed in combination with the correct vitamins and minerals.
  • Consult a registered animal nutritionist.
  • Copra meal’s unbalanced Ca:P ratio can be corrected by feeding 1.5% of the animal’s body weight per day in lucerne.

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