Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Mesquite Pods

I may have stumbled upon a pretty cool discovery, especially for all of you Mustang owners out there, and any feedback provided would be much appreciated..

I will sometimes take Augustus out for long walks outside the ranch gates for a change of scenery and to spark some curiousity, but other days we will stay on Shiloh's property and take a walk through the "back forty", which is a shorter walk but offers a few trails to follow through numerous Mesquite trees. We will normally take this walk alone or with Sawyer, but sometimes we'll be joined by a few other friends. Being that there are numerous Mesquite trees on the property, there are also numerous Mesquite bean pods scattered about and Augustus seems to love them. His taste for them seems to be highly instinctual, as I have never introduced them as a treat. Its not like he is chewing on random shrubs in a pasture and happens to come across a pod and end up liking it, he actually will stop in his tracks while walking and go straight for one of the bean pods. The folks who come with us all have "domestic" horses and will walk right passed the pods, not even giving them a second thought, so I am wondering if Gus has eaten these pods while out on the open range. I did a bit of research and this is what I found:

The Mesquite is the most common shrub/small tree of the Desert Southwest and is a key player to restoring nitrogen to the soil. Native Americans relied on the mesquite pod as a dietary staple from which they made tea, syrup, and ground meal called Pinole. They also used the bark for basketry, fabrics and medicine. A favorite of bees and other insects, mesquite flowers produce a fragrant honey. Medical studies of mesquite and other desert foods show that despite its sweetness, mesquite flour is extremely effective in controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. The sweetness comes from fructose, which the body can process without insulin. The sweet pods are a good source of calcium, manganese, iron and zinc.
The seeds within are 40% protein. The gel-forming fiber allows foods to be
slowly digested and absorbed over a 4 to 6 hour period, rather than 1 or 2
hours, which produces a rapid rise in blood sugar.

I also tried looking up information pertaining only to the consumption of these beans by livestock, both cattle and horses, and this is what I found:

In many areas, cattle eat the beans when other food supplies are low, and the beans can help sustain animals in times of drought. The beans are high in carbohydrates and are an energy source. Some years, massive numbers of beans are produced by the mesquite trees. The problem arises when excessive amounts of the beans are eaten; they can cause rumen impactions in cattle, and a severe acidosis results from the fermentation of the beans in the rumen. Horses which eat large quantities of the beans might also develop colic as a result of the beans causing an impaction of the stomach or intestine. Surgery might be needed to remove the impacted mass of pods and beans.

Now, anything in excess is not really a good thing, but since Augustus is a Mustang, and has possibly included these pods in his "wild" diet, I wonder if he would be in as much danger of a possible "colic" due to the beans as a domestic horse? Does anyone else out there have some wild ones who also seem to have a taste for these pods? I find this so cool and so interesting, especially since this seems to be an instinctual behavior rather than a learned one....


Mikey said...

I bought two colts that were running out here. It's open range and the rancher turned out 9 studs (THAT isn't legal) so two youngsters hung around and I bought them. They ate those mesquite beans and their poop was full of them. They were full of worms too...
but I guess it's ok, as long as they don't gorge on them.

spoiledrottensavvy said...

Based on the notes you provided, if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say that the high-carb, high energy bean provided Gus with the Oomf he needed to cross miles of desert a day. Can we say "Gatorade or Red Bull for Mustangs?" It would seem to me that instinctively, Mustangs would pick out a food source that would provide them with energy for long amounts of movement. Think of how marathon trainees load up on pasta and starches (lucky bastards). Our domesticated critters have evolved as such that their bodies probably would not signal that kind of craving, even the super-athletes, as their diets are carefully monitored and distributed by the humans. The smell is probably appealing enough for the wild Mustang to have a taste, and the sweetness deemed it enjoyable. As for being a threatening source of colic, well, what ISN'T a colic risk in horses? As you said, anything in too much excess would be a cause for concern.
Very interesting post. Cool observation!

Cheryl Ann said...

Eric, interesting post! We have mesquite down here in the lower desert, too, but my mustangs are up in the mountains where there isn't any mesquite. Cali, my BLM palomino filly, DID eat a tumbleweed one day! My two were originally from Wyoming and I guess tumbleweeds were a staple of their diet! I do notice that they eat stuff my domesticated horses would NEVER touch!

Anonymous said...

THANKS for doing the research!
I was wondering the very same things and decided to Google and your was the first link I came to!
In the SE corner of Az. mesquite is plentiful. I have 1 mustang, and 2 domestics, and they ALL love the bean pods! They prefer it over the Alfalfa when it's their turn to go out to the field...I pretty much trust animals to pretty much know what is good for them and what is not...but needed some re-assurance on this one...while living in Ca. I had one who would stand at the plum tree all day and as she ate the fruit, she would spit out the seeds...Great site, by the way!!!
Thanks Again!!