What is it?
Copra is 100% pure coconut. Coconuts are grown on a wide variety of soil types without any need for fertilisers or pesticides. The white meat inside the coconut, called copra, is protected from the environment by the shell and husk until harvest. The water inside the coconut is so pure that it was used in the South Pacific during WWII as a source of isotonic saline when supplies of plasma were running low for the wounded soldiers; the coconut water was run as a drip directly into veins.
The white internal meat of the nut is removed from the hulls, turning to a rich brown colour during drying and extraction of most of the oil which is sold separately. The residual copra meal is milled, inspected for contaminants (especially moulds) and packaged without the addition of any other ingredients. The finished product is then exported in food grade shipping containers under the strict AQIS guidelines for the importation of plant materials into Australia. Reputable suppliers will also have the product tested independently after it has arrived in Australia.
Good quality coprameal will be a mid-brown colour, have a pleasant toasted coconut odour, and be free-flowing without large clumps.
Why feed it?
Copra is naturally low in sugars and starches and is therefore classed as a low Non-Structural Carbohydrate (NSC) feed. Restricting overall NSC intake is not easy when horses are living on high-sugar pastures, therefore using additional feeds that are low NSC will assist in keeping total sugar and starch levels as low as possible. Copra contains approximately 8-10% coconut oil, 20-22% protein, 15 MJ DE/kg dry matter and an NSC of only 11%. This means that copra is the only equine feed that has both a low NSC and a high DE. Most other low NSC feeds are achieved by diluting out the sugar and starch with a filler.
Coconut oil contains mostly medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which are absorbed directly into the portal blood and provide a ready source of cool energy. MCT also have antimicrobial attributes, and it is thought that coconut oil acts to preserve gut health by controlling the growth of intestinal microorganisms. The naturally occurring oils in copra are heat-stable so are much less likely to oxidize (become rancid) than fragile vegetable oils. Copra is also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, including copper and zinc.
What are the benefits of cocnut oil?
Coconut oil in copra is naturally antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal and high in antioxidants. It also increases the body’s metabolic rate which makes it useful for weight regulation. Conversely, for horses who need to gain weight, extra calories can be provided by adding small amounts of pure coconut oil or dried, powdered coconut oil.
As indicated by nutritional biochemist and research scientist, Tim Kempton, PhD, ‘a plethora of research and anecdotal evidence suggests that horses are adept at utilising oil in their diets. Horses adapted to higher-oil diets can digest and transport this extra dietary oil, as evidenced by increased bile production and elevated levels of lipoproteins in blood serum (lipoproteins are the proteins in blood that carry oil molecules). Unlike other animals, in the horse, bile is secreted fairly continuously from the liver and passes via a bile duct directly into the duodenum (bile is a salt solution which helps in the digestion and absorption of oils). Horses can then metabolise oils as an energy source through a process called ‘fatty acid oxidation'. Hence, horses can efficiently digest, metabolise and utilise quite high levels of oils.’ Another benefit of feeding oil is that it has been found to reduce thermal load and increase water production in horses working in hot environments.
The links below are to research from around the world on the many health benefits of coconut oil. A section is included on work by Mary G Enig, PhD who is widely acknowledged as an authority on fats and oils. Evidence dispelling popular myths about coconut oil is also explained clearly.
Physiologist Raymond Peat, PhD, summarises detailed research on the benefits of coconout oil:
Coconut oil may also have performance benefits for horses. A study by Pagan et al (1993) found that horses supplemented with coconut oil versus soybean oil had lower blood lactate and ammonia and higher free fatty acids than a control group of horses who were not supplemented with fat during the gallop and the warm down phase of a standardized exercise test.
There is a wealth of information on the links below about the benefits of feeding copra and coconut oil to horses, backed up by numerous independent scientific articles.
What about mycotoxins?
Mycotoxins (myco = fungus) are poisons produced by fungi; there are many species and subspecies of mycotoxin that may be found as single or multiple species in, or on, any feed consumed by horses. All feed materials have the potential to be infected with mycotoxins, copra no more so than any other feed. This includes grains, chaffs and especially hays, and even fresh pasture grasses. Signs of mycotoxin poisoning range from subtle changes in temperament to overt hind-limb incoordination and death. (Ref: Plants Poisonous to Horses, RIRDC 2006, pp. 92-96)
Rumours and misinformation about copra abound on the internet, suggesting that all copra products are likely to be contaminated with aflatoxins and other species of fungal toxins. To be credible, those rumours should be accompanied by details on the individual subspecies of each mycotoxin being quantified, testing laboratory and date of testing, moisture % of the feed sample, product manufacturer and country of origin, drying and processing method, handling, storage and transport conditions. Absence of this information makes any discussion meaningless, akin to stating peanuts, for example, carry ‘this’ amount of toxin, without specifying any details but inferring that all peanuts are contaminated.
To deprive horses of an excellent feed due to fear of potential toxicity is similar to deciding to not ever feed hay because some horses have become sick as a result of eating contaminated hay. Suppliers of good quality copra from the South Pacific will readily disclose the country of origin and details of the Quality Assurance systems that are in place to ensure a consistently pure product.
It should be noted that mycotoxin load in any feed will depend on storage and handling conditions that can be beyond the control of the manufacturer and retailer. Contamination may occur after purchase by the end consumer if not stored appropriately. All horse feeds and forage should be stored in cool, dry conditions.
The Coconut Oil Miracle
Bruce Fife, ND
Avery Publishing, 2005
WHERE TO BUY COPRA COCONUT MEAL
Go to the SUPPLIERS page for information about where to buy copra in your country.