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Feed the Firmicutes!

Updated: Feb 29

Firmicutes are major contributors of health in the equine biome. This blog article outlines what firmicutes are, what they do and how you can support a healthy firmicutes population in your horse’s hind gut.

What Are Firmicutes?

Firmicutes is a major phylum of bacteria. Firmicutes include a wide range of species, many of which are common inhabitants of the human and animal gastrointestinal tract. They play a crucial role in various biological processes, such as digestion and fermentation.

What Do Firmicutes Do?

Firmicutes produce butyrate, an important short chain fatty acid, active in replacing and renewing the gut wall, repairing tissue damage and aiding recovery after illness. Butyrate is a source of nutrition for gut wall cells and a reduction in levels of firmicutes means a decrease in clostridium and a decrease in fermentation within the caecum and less food for the gut wall. Butyrate influences the immune system and is anti-inflammatory.

What Level Should Firmicutes Be At?

Published research has indicated that a level of 48% reduces the chance of colic. In horses with colitis, the levels are below 30%. The average percentage of firmicutes in the wild Carneddau ponies are a third higher than in domesticated horses.

The average percentage of firmicutes from over 1,000 horses taking the Equbiome test is 29%.

What Does this Mean for Equine Gut Health?

  • A reduction in the gut wall integrity?

  • An increase in inflammation?

  • A decrease in the immune response?

  • An increased risk of colic through poor fermentation in the hind gut?

So, how do we fix the problem?

Feed the firmicutes!

Processing food (i.e. micronizing, chopping, cooking, pelleting) increases the nutrient availability and the calories to the host (horse) but severely reduces the food for the gut bacteria. Firmicutes like complex fibre to digest, they like plant polyphenols and they like variety.

What Should You Feed Your Horse to Support the Firmicutes?

Feeding your horse a diverse, unprocessed, natural diet can help to feed the all-important firmicutes in the horse’s hindgut.

Aim to feed your horse hay and diverse pasture, as many dried herbs in small amounts as possible and as many native grass species as you can find. Go hedgerow grazing - the hedgerow is often the last bastion for many of our native species. Feed a handful of whole oats and most importantly enjoy the journey!

How the EquiBiome Test Can Help

The EquiBiome Test can help horse owners understand how diverse their horse’s microbiome is, as well as the levels of different types of bacteria (good and bad) that are present in the hind gut. The results and report can allow horse owners to be better informed regarding what and how to feed their horses, based on their individual needs. 

Our case studies section provides numerous examples of how we have helped horse owners uncover useful insights into their horses’ gut health. If you are ready to learn more about your horse’s microbiome, visit our online shop to order an EquiBiome Test Kit today. 

diverse plants in horse's pasture
A diverse mix of plants grazed as pasture or fed dry as hay will increase levels of firmicutes

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